Category Archives: Politics and government

The Widening Gyre

“The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. (from “Rediscovering Lost Values”)” Dr. Martin Luther King

In 1972 my idealism, zeal, and what I came to learn was my naivete, led me to volunteer to participate in the nuts and bolts of activism within a political party rather than the demonstrations to which I previously had  been predisposed. First, we helped staff the survey phones for George McGovern. We were given a list of scripted issue questions, which carefully avoided directly asking for whom the subject planned to vote. After each call, we noted on our call sheet a ranking based on their answers from 1 to 5 with a 1 strongly supporting the other candidate and awarding a 5 if we thought they enthusiastically were on the side of the angels.

After some other tasks like signs and posters, on election day we newbies monitored voters at tables provided for party workers near the presiding officials at the polls. We carefully marked off each voter as they were announced, and late in the afternoon, delivered the marked off lists to our party coordinator. I was assured others would contact voters that favored us and offer them rides to the polls. I was living in Massachusetts, which was the only state the feckless Senator McGovern campaign carried, so I must have done a great job. We felt like insiders who worked the levers. How little did we know. I believe now we were “useful idiots,” as Vlad the First would say.

Years later, I learned through some who  are much more aware of how the world really works (as they are well established elected Democrat machine pols), that what really happened with my marked up list was likely some others more in tune with the party were sent in to vote for those who had not yet showed up. Especially targeted were the elderly and other registered voters known to be unlikely to venture out late in the day. Whether they were tallied in our surveys was irrelevant. Once when I was voting in the nineties before photo IDs were required, I personally witnessed at a polling place in Rhode Island[i] a chartered school bus parked out front in the early evening. A line of tired folks slogging through their civic duty was patiently queued up to reload the bus. One fellow near the front of the line asked another fellow checking names off a clipboard where they were headed next.

Before you grasp your head and moan that I am promulgating voter fraud myths and proposing that President Trump really won, I am not and cannot possibly know. Five hundred odd votes in Florida in Bush/Gore in 2000 are not 146,000 votes in Michigan in 2020. If I truly believed that voter fraud could be perpetrated on such a massive scale, I might despair. [ii]However, to believe that none occurs is to be as naïve as I was fifty years ago. I am a firm supporter of photo IDs, which we now have in Rhode Island, and they are not an onerous burden, as unwelcome as they are to the apparatchiks.

Then, again, tired poll workers may not have matched up signatures on millions of mailed in ballots as diligently as one would hope, and their training as graphologists may have been somewhat perfunctory. Lies and deceit on the scale needed to steal this most recent election seem inconceivable, but I have become a cynic, which is to be nothing more than an oft disappointed idealist.

“Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” Mark Twain

Lies as morally acceptable in pursuit of desired ideological goals, the ethics of utility, relativism, and radical subjectivism should be considered in any discussion of election fraud. What is justified if our goals are considered (to us anyway) as noble and right? Does the whole democratic (small “d”) project break down when such malleable values are permissible? Are we asking the right questions?

Rita and I are more than a little wonky – no surprise, I am sure, to many of you. One night this week we streamed from a website that Rita found a ninety-minute panel discussion in 2015 between George Weigel and Yoram Hazony, well known writers and thinkers from the U.S. and Israel. A portion of the annual Advanced Institute in Jerusalem of the Tikvah Fund, the 2015 seminars covered in depth “God, Politics, and the Future of Europe.” “Tikvah hosted a conversation on “Modernity, Religion and Morality” to discuss the decline of Western Civilization and to probe some of the reasons behind it. What happens when faith in the God of the Bible deteriorates? How does that affect faith in reason and are the values of liberalism enough to sustain a society?”[iii]  See link in the notes below.

Many topics were touched on which have great relevance to that which so divides our society and whether Biblical morality has been overwhelmed by an aggressive secularization agenda, especially of the left. “Separation of Church and State,” both presenters contended means only no state intrusion into the practice of anyone’s faith (or lack of faith) and no designated state religion. Yet we seem to have decreed through an activist judiciary and press that no conscience informed by its faith has sufficient credentials to speak out on the vital moral issues of the day.  Is religion merely to be privatized, a pleasant, relatively harmless hobby for the weak, and no religiously informed conscience to be considered legitimate in public debate? The late Father Richard John Neuhaus coined a name for this public forum denuded of religion: the “naked public square,” wherein only non-religious voices should be heard. To me, these voices of objective reason informed by centuries of tradition are sorely needed, indeed critical, in a violently divided culture. What G.K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead” must not be silenced.

In these pages there have been previous discussions of the prerequisite of a morally sound electorate to sustain a democracy[iv]. I will not pursue those arguments again here, but I will suggest that a society deracinated of moral traditions could topple. A hundred years ago, one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, wrote this (first stanza of “Second Coming”), probably his most quoted verse and the source of dozens of titles of blogs and books:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

In our own individual lives and in the life of our mutual and precarious society, has the falcon flown beyond hearing range from the Source of wisdom, prudence, mercy, and justice? Have we pulled up all the essential moorings and, adrift, look helplessly at the rocks and surf? Is our battle spiritual, not merely political and ideological?

With a sigh of relief, maybe we are liberated from four years of turmoil and tweets; we apparently sent the traveling circus train packing and revived the progressive Kool-Aid express in a national election. Or maybe we would benefit from re-reading the fable of the scorpion and the frog[v] and wondering whom we are carrying across the river now.

What we next encounter may be an uncertain future, however the same necessary voices that the progressive vision seeks to marginalize are those which murmur their prayers and talk quietly of hope, trust, kindness, and love for every person from tiny to aged. May these voices be heard, here and now, and by their Source and Benefactor.

Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.” 2 Jn 8-9

[i] We boast a more than 90% Democrat legislature here in Lil Rhody, a textbook of venal corruption.

[ii] This is not to say that concerns of the defeated should be ignored. All legal means of verification must be pursued to their end. I did some analysis by state, and margins in the closely decided states are razor thin. In Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, (easily enough to change the final results), the average margins per voting precinct are 5.7, 6.1,6.3 and 4.7 respectively. Per thousand voters, the average margins for the same states are 3.2, 2.8, 8.8 and 6.2. A switch of between three and four voters per precinct in these states would flip the outcome. The coronation by the media notwithstanding.

[iii] From the introduction text to the video. Well worth your time some evening when CGI superhero fantasies and the bread and circuses of professional sports are not your viewing pleasure. https://tikvahfund.org/posts/modernity-religion-and-morality-a-conversation-with-george-weigel-and-yoram-hazony/

[iv] https://quovadisblog.net/2020/08/09/quaker-hill/

[v] The scorpion that could not swim asked the frog to carry him on his back across the river. The frog refused because he did not want the scorpion to sting him. The scorpion pointed out that if he did that, both would drown, so the frog agreed to take him across. Halfway across the river the scorpion struck, and the dying frog cried out, “You’ve killed us both. Why did you do it?” The scorpion replied, “Because it is my nature.”

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Filed under Culture views, Politics and government

Consistency

“The Tudors hated to be wrong, and therefore never were.” Jeane Westin, “His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester,” New American Library, New York, 2010

         Arguably, the two most divisive and bitter disputes in our nation’s history, not to mention the bloodiest, remain the nadir of the deep rifts in our country still. The first was dodged deliberately by the writers of the Constitution, and the second not even conceived of as a possibility. Both of these conflicting visions were rooted in a fundamental disagreement about the nature of human dignity and held positions of prominence most clearly drafted by the largest political parties: positions which were utterly opposed to one another, adamantly maintained, and the same party was in grievous error on both. And for the same reason.

The first was temporarily remedied by President Lincoln in a dubiously legal executive order designated as the “Emancipation Proclamation.” A more permanent solution enshrined in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution was bitterly opposed by the Democrat Party. The 13th and first post-Civil war amendment ended slavery (except as a punishment for those convicted of crimes!?!).  Sending a constitutional amendment on to the states for ratification requires a two thirds majority in both branches of the Federal legislature.

The first step to ratification cleared quickly in the Senate. This remedy for the most grievous sin of the original Constitution was almost derailed by a larger minority Democrat contingent in the House. Passage in the House needed twenty Democrat votes added to all the Republican votes to attain a two thirds majority. Republican votes were secure in a party founded in anti-slavery convictions.  Only Lincoln’s arm twisting and procuring patronage jobs for soon to be unemployed lame duck Democrat representatives gained the requisite minimum Democrat votes, and the vote had to be taken before the post-election new Congress was formed. Some of the lame duck “yea” voters were menaced by other House Democrats who judged their self-serving betrayal of the party line as a capital crime. A few shots were fired, beatings inflicted, and dire threats abounded.

What immense harm and folly undoubtedly would befall the country if slavery were ended? What other ridiculous indulgences would follow? Would “n****rs” (their term) be granted full citizenship and, God forbid, the franchise to vote? Impossible. Most Southern Democrats saw this as a sure road to perdition and chaos. Democrats had owned all the slaves, and Democrats founded the Ku Klux Klan. Their Democrat political heirs wrote and enacted at the state level all the Jim Crow laws that perpetuated the degradation of the black population for another ninety years, and Democrats bitterly fought every measure of full equality.

As one result of the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties led by the heroes (and martyrs) of non-violence like Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson and others, those horrendous laws and practices belittling the dignity and worth of human beings based on their color finally were put to a well-deserved end. All men and women of any color in our country can sit now in the front of the bus, eat in any restaurant, sleep in any hotel, and drink from any fountain of water to slake their thirst.[i]

“I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.” Colonel Frank Slade as played by the wonderful Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

 

In the latter decades of the twentieth century and persisting to this day arose the second divisive issue that assails our unity: abortion “rights” vs. “pro-life” advocates. Along with “Black Lives Matter,” not much will heat up the temperature in a room more quickly than this topic. Whether the discussion is elections, judicial appointments or endless social media diatribes, the positions seem ever more entrenched. The crux of the argument seems eerily like the first one, and just as intractable with no easy compromise possible. Is the tiny person in the womb a human being with inherent dignity and worth, and thus worthy of every protection she can be afforded? Or is she chattel, disposable, a relatively easily discarded encumbrance, and with her very life vulnerable to the decision of her mother, many times herself in desperate, lonely circumstances? Does the tragedy of the circumstances of the mother outweigh the humanity of a new victim? And if so, how are these conflicting needs to be resolved without multiplying tragedies?

The embryology, and thus the science, is undisputed: a newly conceived fetus (from the Latin meaning pregnancy, childbirth, and offspring) is forever uniquely endowed with genes from her mother and father. She begins at conception a continuum lacking only oxygen, food, and protection from harm, and without violent interruption, she is inevitably bound towards a life as a mature fully formed adult human being. The science is clear. Her fate is not.

Democrats who are not completely on board with public funding for abortion for any reason at any stage of fetal development up to birth are subject to harassment, stripped of Democrat credentials and political power or threatened with being “primaried,” which has become a coercive verb. Disavowed, disinherited, expunged from the record and party support. The money behind this comes from Midas wealthy and seemingly bottomless sources like Planned Parenthood and George Soros. They will not quit, and their pink shirted, vagina hat wearing, full throated, true believer underlings flood state houses across the land to intimidate and shout down all opposition to their program.

After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many lamented the passing of this brilliant long serving jurist. Agree with her judicial philosophy or not, her dedicated service as a jurist was defining. Sadly, mourning was co-opted by the abortion agenda in many places. Here in Rhode Island, an RGB shrine was set up at the State House as for a saint, ostensibly to honor the memory of Justice Ginsburg, but the hardcore subtext of this shrine was the perceived peril to unfettered abortion access, the blasphemous sacrament of the progressive movement. If any doubt exists about its primacy, zoom in on the picture of the Rhode Island statehouse shrine to RBG shown above.

Just as after many battles the dignity of the individual human person of color was declared and clarified in the civil rights struggle, will the innate humanity of tiny people worthy of love and safeguarding be similarly clarified and authenticated?  Will choices we make about who is free, who prospers and who dies continue to be utilitarian decisions, disregarding the intrinsic worth of that single life created Imago Dei? By denying the innate value of even one human person because of their race, gender, ethnicity, degree of imperfection or tiny size, we diminish the value of every life, including our own.

Those, dear friends, are questions worth pondering and the answers to them will characterize our civilization or its degradation, and inevitably form our individual hearts.[ii] Will we hasten our slide into dehumanizing the most vulnerable individual human life, or will we begin to claw back up the hill towards rediscovering and resurrecting our humanity? Quo vadis, America?

“’I hope you care to be recalled to life?’

 And the old answer.

 ‘I can’t say.’”     Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities”, Chapman and Hall, London, 1859

 

[i] This is not to say that all Democrats of that era were bigots or persisted in fighting for repression of and disrespect for the dignity of black people through these heinous rules and regs. Certainly, John and Robert Kennedy along with Senator Hubert Humphrey come to mind. Ultimately after the assassination of JFK, the powers in the Democrat Party saw begrudging opportunity in the franchise for black voters, and they shifted to the cynical sanctimony many still pretend to.  When President Lyndon Johnson was speaking to his mentor and friend, Southern Democrat, Senator Richard Russell, who was leading the longest filibuster in Senate history (over 75 days) against the Civil Rights Bill (as reported by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book” “Lyndon  Johnson and the American Dream”), Johnson said this:

“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”

[ii] In relating these two issues,  I was struck also by the other egregious instances of utilitarian dehumanizing of innocent men, women and children perpetrated by the United States government: the firebombing of Bremen, Dresden, Tokyo and most other large cities in Germany and Japan near the end of WWII. As well, the only use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in world history in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was by the U.S.

One also is reminded of the stigmatizing of Japanese Americans, many of them generations deep as American citizens by the Roosevelt administration, which sequestered them involuntarily based solely on their race in stockade internment camps during WWII, judging them as less than human and not worthy of trust, respect or dignity.

All these atrocities were presided over by Democrat presidents. First it is necessary to strip human beings of their status as human beings, and once dehumanized, almost anything is possible from lynching, mass murders and imprisonment to abortion and slavery. The common factor in these affronts to human dignity is obvious: the party of the perpetrators.

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Diner Revisited 2020

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Art Institute of Chicago

“A poet could write volumes about diners because they’re so beautiful. They’re brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses.” David Lynch (Interview with Brian Hiatt in “Food and Wine,” March 2015)

Josef Stalin once said that a single death is a tragedy, while a million are a statistic. I thought of that this week when I read that New York City restaurants are suing the city for two billion dollars due to the losses incurred by the COVID restrictions and shutdowns. Estimates are that forty-five to fifty percent of restaurants here on Aquidneck Island will not be able to reopen when the dust settles over the corona demolition explosion imposed, necessarily or excessively, by a flourishing bureaucracy. Months, maybe years, and much analysis may determine eventually the wisdom of all the moves. Lives and businesses are holed and many shipwrecked by the torpedoing; some will recover and heal over time. Some will not.

We also heard recently that Reidy’s Family Restaurant in Portsmouth, which closed temporarily in March when the state shut down restaurant dining, will not reopen. Two years ago I posted on this blog a piece titled simply “Diner” on our first visit to Reidy’s and our affection for all good diners. We enjoyed quite a few breakfasts there, especially after Mass on Sunday, so their demise is a bit personal, as it is even more to many others. Crowded, hectic, friendly with a special regard for military veterans and with a crew of regular servers and customers.

While not a ‘regular’ daily visitor as some were for morning coffee and muffin and reading the Newport Daily News, a closed restaurant leaves a hole, especially for the owners, but also for the customers who frequent them and build a stop into their routine. Conversations with other first name regulars, sharing intimacies sometimes not even shared with family. Some of the NYC restaurants signed on for the lawsuit are large corporate affairs, but many are not. However, a place like a fifty something year old local diner has neither the resources nor wherewithal for such legal strategies.

Each such enterprise has an ambiance, carefully designed, or evolved; a vision, someone’s dream and fruit of long, exhausting days and nights. A neighborhood gathering place. Exhilarating days with a collapse into bed afterwards. Hopes rewarded. Years of challenges, disappointments and recoveries, victories, anxiety, and obstacles overcome; persistence rewarded. Friends made with familiar faces. The nearby Dunkin Donuts has a group of its own regulars, who while they cannot yet go inside to their accustomed booth, still gather every morning for an hour or so outside in the parking lot sitting in lawn chairs they haul over in their cars. Reidy’s familiars do not have that option. There is no facility or room for a drive through to sell their great coffee to go. So, what was a large part of a schedule, for some a lonely schedule living alone, is no longer.

As ol’ Joe said, each death is someone’s tragedy, and I wonder today, if with more prudent management and attention to some of the collateral damage from a state bureaucracy and progressive governor,[i] how many of these little deaths were essential to public safety.

“I just feel like the most important conversations I’ve had in my life have been at a diner counter.” Ramy Youssef

[i] The state of Rhode Island despite hour upon hour of public relations daily press conferences is fifth in COVID mortality in the country and worst in the country with over 80% of COVID deaths taking place in nursing homes or assisted living facilities among its most vulnerable when 94% of COVID deaths occur with those having one or more comorbidity factors. All the sanctimonious posturing notwithstanding, the state remains the only state in the northeast still on other area state’s mandatory quarantine list. Meanwhile, so many local businesses are shuttered. It seems the governor paid attention to the wrong vulnerabilities, both among its businesses and citizens.

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Filed under Personal and family life, Politics and government

Unconventional

“This was the bursting of the dam of potential trouble that had been building for years. The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people…[who are the products of] a tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West, saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality, and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.” Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, (as quoted in “The Handwriting on the Wall “, George Weigel, “Fragility of Order,” Ignatius Press, 2018)

Kenosha Sunset

Rabbi Sacks was commenting upon the violent 2011 riots that swept major British cities in August of 2011 after the shooting of a black man, Mark Duggan, by police. Looting expensive shops, destroying whole sections of London by fire, pelting police with thrown objects, and burning buildings and cars, the rioters distinguished themselves with their viciousness, not unlike Milwaukee, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, New York,  and now Kenosha.

I am reminded of some of the peaceful demonstrations and some of the riots in 1968 here in the United States, in Chicago, but quickly metastasizing across many campuses and cities. Protests with many of the same causes began with signs, marches, speeches with hand-held amplifiers, prayers, chants, and songs: legitimate issues of concerned citizens that needed redressing and attention. Demonstrations of the heartfelt passions of citizens then too were co-opted by bad actors, many of whom had a Marxist agenda. They too diverted the protests into looting, riots, and violence, planting social unrest, fear, and chaos. Social unrest that manipulation of the media feeds by design; far Left activism grasps for power as is its nature.

Disillusionment with leaders like those from the Weather Underground[i] and Black Liberation Army drove some, maybe many, of my naïve, romantic, deceived, and idealistic generation to opt out of continuing to battle for necessary reform, retreating into a dope smoking perpetual “summer of love” haze or other more comforting options like joining the cadre of the privileged Baby Boomer generation repurposed into the unprecedented opulence of eighties greed and material acquisitions. Swap that VW bus with the tie die paint job and hand painted protest signs for the Benz, vegan restaurants, and health spas.

Bob Dylan, bard of the Sixties, wrote many protest songs in the sixties that became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war protests. “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rains a gonna Fall,” and others. As he matured in his experience, genius, and craft, Dylan regretted some of them and the purpose to which they were put by others. He saw them as less nuanced and more simplistic than the understanding of the culture into which he grew later, and he was disappointed by their exploitation. He said this in interviews and in some of his later songs, most notably in “My Back Pages:”[ii]

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate, ” I screamed

Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed

Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now….

 

A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool

Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school

“Equality, ” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

“When I was at the Academy,” I said, “we had to read about it (Battle of Waterloo). The Duke’s[iii] army was full of riffraff, a lot of them had been grabbed off the street by press gangs, a lot of them let out of prison to fight.”

Virgil nodded, watching the horsemen.

“So,” I said. “Somebody asks the Duke before the battle how he feels about his army. And he says, ‘I don’t know if they will scare the French, but they scare the hell out of me.”  Robert Parker, “Resolution,” G.P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 2008

Kenosha Sunrise

The words “unconventional” and “convention” as well as “convent,” and even the derivation “coven” originate in Latin roots that mean “coming together.” Some irony exists in what political conventions have become: gatherings of the like-minded to feed division. The latest iterations, even with the COVID remote restrictions, were no exception, and there are far too many examples to cover in a blog post.

We will benefit from looking at just one.

The Democrat party convention avoided discussion of its complicity with, tacit approval of, and even advocacy for two notable and unpopular instances of violence. The tame press corps did nothing to call them to account. No surprise the Republicans sought to exploit the vulnerability.[iv]

The first instance was to ignore almost entirely the riots, looting, chaos and violence that still is rolling like a stormy tide over city streets, destroying businesses already barely surviving from COVID stress, invading residential neighborhoods, and attacking police with thrown rocks, improvised explosives and vision damaging lasers. Very few Americans irrespective of their positions on the protest issues support the violence, yet the party remains mute, fearful lest they displease the most radical elements of their base.

The second ignored violence was worse. The Biden/Harris ticket is the most radical ever of any major political party in support of abortion “rights.” Even with Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court decisions usurping all legislative prerogatives and costing the lives of sixty million tiny Americans, upping the toll remains high on the list of Democrat priorities. The Democrat platform supports abortion for any reason at any stage in human gestation up to and even past birth as well as pushing for government funding for these grotesque procedures.

Kamala Harris, when she was Attorney General in California, conspired with Planned Parenthood to prosecute and bankrupt David Daleiden[v], who published undercover videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s illegal sale of fetal body parts for profit[vi]. Harris has openly stated she favors prosecuting pro-life activities as hate speech. The convention tried to project her as moderate.

Only 17% of Americans support this radical position. Over 75% support at least some restrictions after the first trimester. Sadly, many Americans believe those restrictions are in place and are dismayed when they learn they are not. No dismay at the Democrat party, however. Their political war chest is well provisioned with funds from the wealthy abortion lobby and its allies.

In the closely scripted theatrics of the 2020 convention, they thoroughly avoided mention of the extreme methods to which they subscribe. No doubt, polling, focus groups, and highly paid consultants advised a low profile on that one. The consultants were right to try and hide the agenda; they were tragically wrong on the unfiltered agenda’s intended purpose.

Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” John F. Kennedy, Presidential inaugural address, 1960

[i] Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke openly on tape of her and fellow founders being ‘trained Marxists.’ They were protégés of former Weather Underground member, Eric Mann. The Weather Underground was a Marxist terrorist organization with a string of convictions for cop killing, armed bank truck robberies and murders. Their name was derived from a line from the Bob Dylan song Subterranean Homesick Blues:  “Don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

[ii]My Back Pages,” Thirtieth Anniversary concert with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Roger McQuinn and others.

[iii] Duke of Wellington, who’s British forces defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, ending a bloody war and ending the string of victories for the “Le Petit Caparal” and his aspirations for empire.

[iv][iv] Four speakers at the Republican convention were explicit in this: Daniel Cameron, Attorney General of Kentucky, Abby Johnson, former Employee of the year at Planned Parenthood who now directs an organization dedicated to helping employees of that organization to extricate themselves, and Sister Dede Byrne, surgeon, retired Army Colonel and now a member of a religious order dedicated to serving the poor. Perhaps most moving was Ann Dorn, widow of retired police captain David Dorn, who went to his friend’s small store in St. Louis to try and protect it from looters. He was murdered, and his murderers posted his killing on Facebook.

[v] Webinar on Daleiden persecution by Harris from Thomas More Society, which defends religious freedom and pro-life work. https://youtu.be/tHH9Y40jikE

[vi] Watch the videos yourself and make up your mind if disclosing the illegal Planned Parenthood activity merited coverage by Daleiden. http://www.centerformedicalprogress.org/cmp/investigative-footage/

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Filed under Background Perspective, Politics and government, Sachuest Point and other wonders

Lil’ Rhody Part 2

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Will Rogers

Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Mattiello (from WPRO 2015)

The last post ended with Rhode Island’s colorful rogue, Buddy Cianci, long time Providence mayor and failed gubernatorial candidate. This time up, the current gray denizens inhabiting the Rhode Island statehouse make their appearance. Long dominated by the Democrat Party, Rhode Island politics are inbred and clubby on a need to know basis. Outsiders and voters don’t need to know.

Much has been written about ‘deep state’ bureaucracy in Washington: privileged, secretive and shielded from view, intensely ideological, entitled, entrenched, metastasizing relentlessly and ruthless in its self-regard and self-preservation.  Each state has its own version; Rhode Island is no exception.

When Rita worked as Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life, she was a registered lobbyist and stalked the corridors of the statehouse discussing pending legislation relevant to her organization with state reps and senators and occasionally governors and Federal reps and senators.  On one of her first visits to the Statehouse, Rita was anxious to learn the ways of the labyrinth.  She went to the office of a friend, who was office manager to the Democrat Senate Majority Leader, who eventually quit under a cloud. Under a cloud is how many incumbents reluctantly fade away in Rhode Island.

While she was there, a confidant of her friend and recently in her probationary period as a new state employee, rushed through the door and breathlessly exclaimed, “I got my benefits!” She had the enthusiasm of someone who just hit the lottery. And in a way, she had. Lifetime health care and pension benefits, and even though grossly underfunded by a legislature reluctant to disclose the full costs of employee sinecures to the voters, the promise was at least there for permanent security. “I got my benefits!” translated as “I am now deeply ensconced in the elite cadre of protected forever state workers!” Or in short, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, there is a God!![i]

After Rita left her friend’s office, she made her way down the stairs past another public employee sitting at a naked desktop in an empty corridor waiting for his benefits. On his desk was nothing: no phone, no computer, no paper, not even a magazine. He did not look embarrassed or bored or apologetic to be doing absolutely nothing. He was friendly in an offhanded, distracted way and seemed confident that there would be no negative repercussions for his lack of productive work. These things will work themselves out. Eventually. No one had asked him to do anything or defined his job for him, but his paycheck would clear on Friday – the reward for shoe leather expended in some key office holder’s campaign no doubt. Thus, were Rita’s first lessons in Rhode Island state governance completed.

Please understand there are many highly skilled professionals who work hard every day as public employees, and we are fortunate they do, especially in jobs protecting the environment, clean air and water, health and safety. But there are others who tarnish the great ones, which should offend the productive workers and the voters.

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Last post Rhode Island was lauded as the ‘Most Peaceful’ state in the country. Lil’ Rhody shows on some other lists. It ranks sixth highest in total tax burden on its citizens[ii], not a great surprise as all the others at the top are similarly Democrat controlled. Democrats are the party of coercive government solutions to social problems, irrespective of evidence that the state can positively influence them. The Law of Unintended Consequences is as real as gravity, especially when complicated with vote pandering and political posturing. Rhode island is well situated as well in the top tier of public employees per capita[iii].

In a couple of other categories, though, Rhode Island does not sit on the top of the pyramid. In the annual CNBC study of the states that grow jobs and induce new businesses to move in, Rhode Island climbed a notch or two out of the cellar a year ago, but for 2019 dropped into its accustomed spot, fiftieth out of fifty.[iv] We bleed jobs in Rhode Island, and subsequently we hemorrhage population and are in danger of losing one of our two House of Representative seats. More alarming, what we are losing is our young people, so the population demographic is aging. The state spends lavishly to educate our young and hosts several excellent universities, but their graduates head to Texas, Arizona, North Carolina or even neighboring Massachusetts for far better job prospects.

Anyone who has driven Rhode Island potholed roads and over or under its rusted steel and pitted concrete bridges is not surprised at another national ranking. Again, fiftieth out of fifty for infrastructure[v]. That’s right. Sixth in tax burden, fiftieth in infrastructure and business development. Taxpayer money is sucked into the spongy conduits of government: nepotism and connected public jobs, underfunded and unaffordable pension plans for public employees and underwriting bonds for ill advised, but politically attractive private businesses like Curt Schilling’s sports video games debacle. The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is more attractive as an investment.

The legislative session for 2018-2019 slowly ramped up after the fund-raising gatherings called “times” and the election furor subsided. Obviously, the most urgent priority for legislators must have been lowering taxes for its beleaguered constituents and addressing the sorry business environment and dangerous bridge situation. Maybe in a happier parallel universe. In Rhode Island, this past session was dominated by authorizing open season on our tiniest and most vulnerable human beings. Urged on by prominent media outlets in the state like the Providence Journal and local TV stations, after several months of contentious hearings, and through the contrivance of previously professed pro-life Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and enthusiastic abortion advocate Governor Gina Raimondo, the Reproductive Privacy Act was passed. Pink shirted screaming bullies shouted down committee hearings and briefly invaded the Senate President’s office. They picketed the homes of swing committee members and with van mounted loudspeakers called them out as hating women to their neighbors and children.

The various backroom Machiavellian maneuvers are beyond the scope of this post.  Attached is a more detailed history for any more curious (or masochistic) readers.[vi]  Some brief clarifying notes:

  • The bill mimics one written by lawyers hired by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which funded and organized pink shirted assault and publicity. It mirrors similar bills passed in Vermont and New York. The Reproductive Privacy bill had little to do with privacy (it couldn’t have been more public) and nothing to do with reproduction. On the contrary; its singular focus was on violently inhibiting it.
  • It allows abortion for any reason in any form up to the moment of birth. 73% of voters oppose such late term abortions, but the supporters want no restrictions. The bill prohibits any rules regarding abortion clinics, including authorizing some who are not doctors to perform them.
  • Several times the bill was stopped in committee votes, only to be resurrected by its proponents in backroom manipulations. At one point, in violation of Senate rules, the chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee which heard all the late-night testimony, when it became apparent the bill would be defeated again, unilaterally switched it to another committee stacked in its favor that heard no testimony. That was only one instance of several similar moves that kept the bill alive.
  • After a Senate hearing killed one version of the bill, the pink shirts stormed the Senate President’s office demanding that he intervene despite his long professed pro-life stance. Viewers of the evening news were treated to the sight of him with face frozen in fear being escorted from his office by Capital Police[vii].

In my youth a young Democrat Senator, John F Kennedy, launched his career with his wartime heroics and the publication of his Pulitzer Prize winning book about major political figures in American history from all parties who risked their political fortunes and lives to stand up for what was right. “Profiles in Courage” once defined what Democrat politics stood for. There were very few profiles in courage in the Rhode Island statehouse this year. Cowards who feared losing their privileges and influence or their gavel collapsed under pressure and sanctioned sacrifices of babies to a culture obsessed with pleasure and irresponsibility regarding its consequences.

“The promise given is a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.”  Niccolo Machiavelli

[i] Retiree benefits were altered for those retiring after 2008, capping state reimbursement for health care after 65 to 80% of costs. Prior to that, retired state employees with long service would receive 100%.

[ii] https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/

[iii] https://www.governing.com/gov-data/public-workforce-salaries/states-most-government-workers-public-employees-by-job-type.html

[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/why-rhode-island-is-the-worst-state-for-business-in-2019.html

[v] https://www.forconstructionpros.com/asphalt/news/21017738/all-50-states-ranked-by-worst-crumbling-infrastructure

[vi] See the attached synopsis of the history of this bill. Link to document.

[vii] https://www.facebook.com/WPRI12/videos/watch-senate-president-dominick-ruggerio-had-to-be-escorted-from-his-office-as-p/442724003171604/

 

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Lil’ Rhody

“Louisiana loses 30 miles off our coast a year. We lost 100 miles last year off our coast thanks to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have lost a size of land equivalent to the entire state of Rhode Island.”  Bobby Jindal (former governor)

Rhode Island has its own miles of beaches and estuaries. Through a series of circumstances that were in retrospect fortuitous, we have recently retired on Aquidneck Island near some sublime geography like mile long Sachuest Beach (Second Beach), Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, Norman Bird Sanctuary, and over the Mount Hope bridge into Bristol an Audubon refuge with an adjacent bike path through estuary and coastline that runs fifteen miles along Narragansett Bay. Although smaller than some ranches in Texas, Rhode Island is a lovely place to live.

One of the original thirteen colonies, tiny Rhode Island possesses the cockiness of a persistent undaunted underdog. Nearby to us, Newport was occupied for a time by British troops during the Revolutionary War after they defeated a small contingent of colonials in our town of Portsmouth on the north end of Aquidneck Island. Mansions were commandeered by British officers and are still gainfully inhabited by locals; one is now the Newport Art Museum. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located on Bellevue Avenue along with its “cottages” like The Elms and The Breakers. Newport is on the south end of Aquidneck with a long history and many homes from the early eighteenth century and a few from the seventeenth. The oldest still open tavern in the country, the White Horse Tavern, is in Newport, built in 1652 and a tavern since 1673. The Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old Colony House (Original Rhode Island State House) a few hundred yards away. Fine dining, lively pubs and sailboats in the harbor abound. The America’s Cup races have been held in the waters here.

Rhode Island was just recognized as the most peaceful state in the union by USA Today[i], based on its lowest composite violent crime rate. We have come a long way since Raymond Patriarca[ii] ruled New England organized crime from his lawn chair on the sidewalk outside his vending machine distribution company on Federal Hill. Very little, if any, violent street crime, at least crime not authorized by Raymond, occurred on Federal Hill then, but for different reasons. Muggers may or may not have been successful in their felonious intent towards some Rolex wearing out of state patron of one of the fabled Federal Hill Italian restaurants, however no second attempts by the perpetrator were recorded. Nor were their bodies usually identified, even if scattered pieces were discovered in the Johnston landfill.

Irony is the mother’s milk of Rhode Island. The long list of governors, congressmen and mayors of at least four cities that went to prison just since we have lived here rivals any collection of woeful miscreants in the country. But a few were memorable and contributed to Lil’ Rhody’s ambiance.  One of the Federal prosecutors who put Raymond Senior away for good was a young firebrand, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Buddy eventually rode his hard charger reputation to become Mayor of Providence for multiple terms. Twice he lost his mayoralty, both for his own felony convictions. The first time was for straightening out a contractor who had slept with Buddy’s wife during the separation, but before the divorce. This correction was aided by a fireplace implement and (perhaps) a lighted cigarette extinguished on the face of the guy who made Buddy a cuckold. Buddy served no time but lost his job. He took advantage of his temporary ineligibility for office to become a hugely successful radio talk show host while he waited for his parole to wind down: witty, charming, quick and funny, he knew where all the political bodies were buried. His regular callers ranged from shock jock Don Imus and experts on government waste and budgets to Joe the Barber who knew everyone worth knowing among Rhode Island’s panoply of fascinating characters.

When his parole was completed, he easily won reelection swatting away the neophyte pretenders like annoying horseflies on Salty Brine Beach. During his tenure, the city was transformed from potholes and litter into a show place. The Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, long imprisoned by concrete and steel conduits and buried by pavement, were dug out and exposed to the sunlight after a century. The confluence of the reborn rivers merge into the Providence River and now play host to gondolas and Waterfire events with music in the adjacent streets. The roads were well maintained, the schools were highly rated. The fire department was one of the best small city units in the country, all while keeping the tax rates low for longtime residents. Mayor Cianci loved his city; his politicking skills and reading of crowds that frequently gathered at his events were legend. We have a picture of him with his arm around our youngest daughter in her baseball uniform at an opening day event. Meg said he was nice and smelled of cigars. He was dressed in pressed jeans and a Providence sweatshirt, managing another city event picking up winter litter along the city roadsides. Ironically, he often held court at one of the Federal Hill restaurant’s sidewalk tables talking to anyone who stopped by. Everyone called him Buddy. His enemies called him Vincent. No one called him Vinny that I ever heard.

His second felony conviction for criminal corruption ended his string of terms after new Federal prosecutors investigated the Mayor’s office for a variety of offenses like cash in envelopes for parking lot permits, liquor licenses not renewed after the Mayor was blackballed by an exclusive and snooty East Side brandy and cigar men’s club and sweetheart snow plowing contract deals. No specific bribe was ever credited to Buddy, but his city hall administrators were knee deep. He rewarded personal loyalty with appointments and trust, and his courtiers profited. The RICO conspiracy due to the stench of his associates brought him down. He spent five years in a Federal prison without public complaint (don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time) and then was almost reelected to a third set of mayoral terms. Now in full disclosure with his famous toupee discarded, his luck ran out, and his independent run after the Republican Party disowned him fell short in a three-way race.

Back at the radio station to much acclaim and enthusiastic welcome from his loyal constituents, Buddy fell ill while on the air and died shortly thereafter to be mourned by most of the city. Despised by the progressive politicians who circled him constantly like a pack of jackals stalking an aging lion, he reveled in ridiculing their pretentions and hypocrisy. A particularly egregious representative of their ilk, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a doctrinaire and unctuous progressive, was always referred on the air as Weldon Shitehouse[iii] whenever Buddy would eviscerate him for some profoundly stupid ideological remark the hapless Senator solemnly opined. I still miss Buddy. The annual oldest in the country Fourth of July parade in Bristol will never be the same without him riding by in the convertible pointing to and greeting those he knew at every turn. The world is less interesting without him.

“Political corruption is to Rhode Island as smog is to people who live in Los Angeles: nobody complains of its absence, but when it rolls around everyone feels right at home.” Phillip Gourevitch, “The New Yorker”

Space and the beleaguered reader’s patience and attention span prohibit more for this post. The next one will address the soulless landscape of the current batch of more sinister and cowardly politicians who this year enacted some truly despicable legislation with a series of backroom power moves. More adventures in the Ocean State to follow.

 

[i] https://patch.com/rhode-island/newport/rhode-island-named-most-peaceful-state-u-s

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_L._S._Patriarca

[iii] https://legalinsurrection.com/2018/09/senator-sheldon-whitehouse-grilled-brett-kavanaugh-about-a-yearbook-fart-joke-seriously/

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Weltschmerz

“In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.” Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke, 1790

In the seventeenth century the French author Francois de La Rochefoucauld famously wrote that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. I wonder if the hypocrites who prompted the quote cared whether they were caught out. Recent events in the Rhode Island legislature indicate that the current batch of hypocrites want only to avoid a memorable line that will make the Providence Journal or WPRI in the five o’clock news and show up in their opponent’s talking points in the next election. Little heed seems to be paid to how conspicuous is their cynical hypocrisy to listeners, only matters if it will cost them votes. Hypocrisy is expected, even celebrated, if it’s sufficiently clever and the goals align with the progressive vision.

A Providence legislator, Dan McKearnan, speaking on the floor of the House said that his “deep faith” (Catholic} informed his advocacy and that he trusted women to “make holy choices.” Holy choices. The choices they would make when the legislation passed would be to kill or not to kill their offspring, to “terminate” their pregnancy, which the legislation (H5125a,) sanctioned up to the moment of birth. Forty weeks. Full term, a full four months past viability. A fetus one second, someone’s baby the next. Or someone’s tiny corpse.

In a television news debate on the bill that has passed the House and is waiting Senate action, Rabbi Sarah Mack stated that the bill was a victory for freedom and rightly favored “existing life.” Existing life. Must have cut those boring embryology courses in school. Every major embryology text marks conception as the beginning of human life.  So, science was not her strength, but did she sleep in when they covered Jeremiah 1:5? “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart.” Perhaps Rabbi Mack stayed too late at lunch playing bridge in the dining commons when her professor taught Isaiah 49:1. “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother He named my name.” Or returned late from Fort Lauderdale on spring break when they reviewed the exegesis on Psalm 139:13. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” She said, and rightly so, that it was not right that religion should dictate legislation. However, when legislation first ignores science and then fails to make a moral judgment informed by a conscience formed by faith or justice or reason or protection of the most vulnerable, well, that’s a sadder tale.

“We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any voluntary pact. They arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God, which are not matters of choice.” Edmund Burke

The bill was named the Reproductive Privacy Act, which is a further irony in that it is concerned with not with “reproduction,” but with its lethal inhibition. The “privacy” allusion is a tip of the hat to Roe v. Wade, which cited privacy as the foundation for usurping every state’s authority and instantly negated all legislation controlling abortion. The slippery ground for a privacy foundation was created by citing the Griswold v. Connecticut contraception case. One of the most infamous passages in Supreme Court history proposed this nonsense: “The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.  Various guarantees create zones of privacy.” So, the Supreme Court decision that has spelled doom for sixty million pre-born Americans is sustained by a gauzy contrivance of emanations, penumbras and zones of privacy, suspended on a spider’s web.

A second spider’s web, upon which hangs the first, is the blind certainty that supports the progressive enterprise: the myth of human perfectionism – that progress is linear and will always move us closer towards some ideal future where human frailty and tendency towards prejudice, violence, using others for personal gain or pleasure will diminish to nothing as enlightened (and coercive) governance leads us to the promised land. Just the history in our own times, especially in the century immediately preceding this one, when various Utopian ideologies delivered the bloodiest hundred years in human history. The twentieth century alone provides the evidence that such beliefs are at best naïve, and at worst deliberate utilitarian delusions in pursuit of a totalitarian agenda.

The natural heir to that bloody century is our own. War, oppression, human trafficking are obvious and persistent horrors. Far worse is the dehumanization of a whole class of human beings, and it has wrought the highest tally, the single highest cause of death in the world and in our country last year that overwhelms the toll of any other. Disease, war, murder, terrorism, cancer, starvation, unclean waters are eclipsed in their body counts. Simply pronounce that yet-to-be-born humans are not human, and we contrive a cardboard culture that promises human fulfillment based on the lie of autonomy. We will secure economic futures built on killing our own children, feed our worst self-absorbed selves, and let it metastasize[i]. The largest single cause of death in the world in 2018 was abortion – 42 million, with over a million of those tiny victims in our own country.  Eleven million and counting rapidly year to date this year.[ii] We masquerade it as medical care, yet once exposed to the light sickens all who see it.[iii] Set up the kill and call it freedom, call it liberation, even call it virtue. “Weep not for me, (mothers of Jerusalem), weep for yourselves and for your children.”

“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with its eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s attention on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the Future. Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: Macmillan Co.,1943), p.xv

[i] For a good article on the metastasis, see in this week’s Public Discourse, the article by Anthony Esolen: When Reason Does Not Suffice: Why Our Culture Still Accepts Abortion https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2019/04/50665/

[ii] From the Worldometers site.

[iii] From the true story of Abby Johnson, former employee of the year and director of a Texas Planned Parenthood facility. In “Unplanned” she tells her story. Here is the pivotal scene that changed her life. Watch it reflect. https://youtu.be/Z9bMwP2CLP8

 

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Milk Run

“There is no better way to understand an animal than to milk a cow twice a day. Every day.” Anonymous

 cows-loungingRay Hall was a spare, reticent, tall man, slightly stooped with practical plastic framed sturdy eye glasses and a baseball cap. He was a dairy farmer on the North Road in Mount Vernon, Maine, who, when he chose to deploy it on necessary occasions, had a warm smile. His farm was clean, well-organized, closely scheduled and had many cows with breeds I can’t remember; I think Guernsey and Holstein. They decorated the fields and hills behind the barn in paintable pastoral beauty.

The Halls were generations deep in Mount Vernon; Ray’s son built a ranch house on the property with his wife, preparing to continue the traditions. Milk was collected each day in a separate small room off the big barn into a spotless chilled stainless steel tank that had an interior slowly rotating mixer to keep the cream from separating. Fresh cold milk has the improved character that new eggs with tiny feathers stuck to them have for those who have raised hens (as we have) or have had the good fortune to live near an egg farm. The taste, the color, the wholesomeness is qualitatively better than the stored, pasteurized, homogenized factory product.

Several of us might gather in Ray’s milk room and catch up on gossip while we waited our turn to refill our bottles. In a town like Mount Vernon, we enjoyed every opportunity to stay current with the goings on of our neighbors; most of the talk was benign. Folks wanted to be able to help if needed, or at least be aware of the sensibilities.

Ray sold his milk to Cumberland Farms, which would send the tank truck to haul off the day’s production for processing and bottling. For the locals, however, who brought their own clean bottles, there was a spigot on the tank and an honor system cash box nearby. Seventy-five cents a gallon, as I remember, but it was a long time ago. The milk had to be shaken before pouring to blend the cream back in unless we let it rise to the top and skimmed some for coffee or whipping or recipes. We’ve never had better milk before or since.

 “My father..liked to be a farmer. He enjoyed his dairy farm and felt the calling. So there was a dedication. I was dedicated as a child to the service of God, and so there was this continual centering of a greater purpose than your own.”  Phil Jackson

In the spring of 2010, armed federal marshals and state troopers raided the Amish dairy farm of Dan Allgyer called Rainbow Acres. Almost a year of expensive investigation preceded the raid. The customers were not deceived, understood the potential risks, trusted the farmer and made the informed decision that raw milk unprocessed by machinery was healthier and tasted better; some people cannot drink milk that has been heated, bagged and tagged in a factory. The Federal government thought differently, showed up with a warrant, then bagged and tagged Dan instead.

Two aspects of this struck me; they are closely related, perhaps ‘inextricably entwined:’

We have been distanced incrementally from the sources of our food and consequently from authenticity. We are increasingly an X Box, artificial intelligence (oxymoron?), virtual reality culture. Rita’s grandparents on both sides raised their own vegetables and fruit, made their own wine, raised, slaughtered and dressed chickens and an annual pig, making sausage, bacon, hams and the thin sliced cured ham miracle called prosciutto; neighbors would line up at their house for it. The skills commonly known to our grandparents to milk cows, grow gardens, hunt or raise our own animal protein or merely wander at leisure in fields and forests are being stripped away to be replaced with LED screens and speakers. Much time and energy is spent to entertain and distract ourselves from the human contact, work and real life dirt, calluses and sweat necessary to sustain us.

 bureaucracy-cartoonSecondly, we surrender ourselves and even welcome a self-perpetuating huge bureaucratic Federal apparatus which has been granted more and more free rein to rein us in. The monolith desires to protect us from any freedom that could possibly cause us harm as perceived by a progressive nanny state. We far too frequently don’t get to decide what level of risk we are willing to pursue to live more closely in touch with real things, events and places. In this usurpation of liberty, we drift ever closer to the Borg and distance ourselves ever further from the vision of the Founding Fathers for an independent, virtuous and knowledgeable electorate.

Journey down to Washington, DC and walk past the astonishingly large gray office buildings housing the minions and machinery of the bureaucracy. It just might give you pause.

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint… But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in cleaned, carpeted, warmed and well lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy…” C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters.”

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Confirmation Bias

“Good sense is the most evenly distributed commodity in the world, for each of us considers himself to be so well endowed therewith that even those who are the most difficult to please in all other matters are not wont to desire more of it than they have.” Discourse on Method,  Rene Descartes

Surveys taken during the mercifully terminated election cycle concluded that fifty nine percent of us believe the economy is getting worse, sixty four percent are convinced the American Dream of working hard and getting ahead is dead, and for eighty nine percent of us, at least once a week something in the news makes us truly angry. Yet the overall unemployment (those without jobs who want them and those who have given up looking) stands at 9.5%, down from 17.1% during the depths of the Great Recession. Inflation adjusted median income (not average, so it is not skewed by the ultra large and small) has fallen to $56,516 from its peak in 2000 of $57,909, and is up substantially from 1985, when we got along with less ($48,720).  By inflation adjusted, we mean the annual income is stated as if costs had remained par with the beginning of the tracking, so that the numbers reflect a true increase in median buying power. While a slight decrease in sixteen years is not good, neither is it disaster: we have stayed about even with increasing costs, and greatly improved our situation in the last thirty years.

Just a few more statistics.  Please keep your eyes from glazing over if you can.  The middle class has shrunk from 59% to 50% from 1981 until 2015 (oh my, the middle class is dying).  Are the inhabitants of the lost nine percent living under bridges and rummaging in dumpsters as the twenty-four-hour news cycle may have you believing? The reality is a bit different. Although the so called lower middle class has grown from 26% to 29%,  the higher income upper class has grown from 15% to 21%. The rich have gotten richer, and there are more poor, but again the news is mixed. Two thirds of the diminishing middle class moved up a notch, while one third went backwards. Not that statistics make those who have fallen behind feel any better (perhaps even worse), but as John Adams famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

Difficult challenges remain ahead: promised benefits to those who contributed much for their whole working lives like Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy, and while annual deficits began to diminish, overall national debt has doubled yet again in the last eight years to a daunting $18 trillion. Undocumented immigrant workers must be resolved; they came here illegally, but without them not much would be constructed, mowed, cleaned or harvested. An implacable murderous cadre derived from a worldwide huge, heretical sect that preaches conversion by the sword and a brutal unforgiving sharia law enforced to the death. Radical Islam wants us dead. The political courage and will to fix these has not been apparent of late, but that does not preclude the rise of necessary leadership and the willing compromises of the rest of us from remedies.  However, our immediate prospects are not as dire as most believe.

So why are we so angry and depressed as a culture? So divided? So unwilling to participate in reasonable problem solving and positive communication? And so entrenched in shouting across an unbridged chasm with vitriol, condemnation and accusations of stupidity expressed as superficially clever bumper sticker slogans and insulting memes? Neither side of the chasm is guiltless in this regard as we all Facebook and Twitter away, while congratulating our associated true believers with “Likes,” laughing emoticons and clichéd internet shorthand acronyms.

“A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

franklin-jefferson-adamsToo many aspects of this destructive phenomenon to explore in a blog post, but we can look at one: what the shrinks call “confirmation bias “– that damnable tendency to filter new information per our preconceived ideas.  We believe readily everything negative about those whom we judge harshly and remain resolutely tone deaf to everything negative on our side of the big chasm. The converse also applies: we believe nothing positive of the devils on the other side and every scintilla of remotely encouraging news about our guy (or girl).

 In short we believe ourselves to be right (or else why would we believe it?), but we lose our way and become mired in the sludge of our willingness to demean those with whom we disagree. They are morons, evil and better off dead. We not only disagree, we condemn in the basest terms possible.  If Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who disagreed on many issues about the structure of a new nation, had not worked so very hard to overcome profound differences, we might still be singing “God Save the Queen.”

Why can’t we sit down with a cup of coffee or an adult beverage or break some bread, put on our big boy pants as Tom Hanks recently suggested and be willing to engage in rational polite discussion to present and defend our side and to listen in good faith to those with whom we differ?  No vitriol, no accusations of imbecility or demonic possession, just a conversation. Maybe we can all expand our little gray cells and comprehension, and while we may not end up in agreement in every regard, there is a chance we can understand the other a bit better. In that we may begin to forge a way ahead we can all live with.  To yell from the sidelines and hope our leaders of one stripe or another fail us once again is like hoping the driver of the bus we are all on drives off a cliff. Can we leave behind our compulsion to please our likeminded fellows, and stop poisoning political speech? Perhaps we can find both useful discourse and real solutions.

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided.” Aristotle

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Spiders and Such

“He fancied he had seen the festering truth that lies at the heart of all bureaucracies: his report, he decided like all reports and all decisions could probably wait until next week.   Bureaucracy, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Help

Walking into an unlit, dank, dirt floored cellar brings with it an irrational foreboding. When my face runs into several spider webs, the distasteful sensation of clinging suffocation comes with an urge to panic, to abandon my exploration and frantically rub off the sticky filaments. My imagination jumps unbidden to a twitching in unseen regions of the webs, movement with weight and purpose, significant arachnids – fetid with predatory fangs, and my eyes feel vulnerable.

Walking into the Department of Motor Vehicles for a simple transaction like registering a vehicle and picking up license plates brings with it a sense of foreboding as well. How long will this take?  How much will it cost? How unpleasant will the experience be?  Can I wipe away the clinging after effects without getting bitten? This week, an experience reinforced the dread, emblematic of what entrenched bureaucracy can inflict upon the innocent.  Well, pretty much innocent.

The first step was positive: five minute wait to the check in desk, then the unraveling began. A pleasant woman looked over my prepared paperwork and declared it complete and ready to get in line for a take a number wait. Then she checked her DMV records and discovered a tax block on new or renewed registrations from my old hometown–speed bump. I went back to my truck and unsheathed my trusty smartphone.  A quick search got me the phone number for the City of Providence Tax Collector’s Office; I called it four times. Each time it rang fifteen times or so with no capacity for voicemail and hung up on me.  Undaunted, I went on their website.  Found my records, and they showed back excise taxes due on my old car from 2015 and 2016. Apparently when I changed my address for the registration, the DMV hadn’t notified the City of Providence. They had done so for Rita’s car, but not mine. The Post Office had stopped forwarding my mail, and I was unaware of the problem.

Since I had lived in Middletown for those years, I didn’t owe the taxes, but if I was to get my plates that day, which I needed to do, the easier course was to pay them, release the block and fight it out another day. Back on my phone on the website, I was maneuvering to pay the bill with a credit card on my phone.  I entered my address as asked, but it would not accept the payment because it wanted my old Providence address.  Joseph Heller wrote about this bureaucratic predisposition and named it for our times: Catch 22. My old address would qualify me to pay, but my credit card required my current address.  Tried calling them again-same result. Put my smartphone away and started my truck to drive the forty five minutes to Providence. One must maintain commitment to the task.

Three visits to two offices and a trip to my bank to get a certified check later (the City of Providence accepts credit cards on their website, but has no machines in the collector’s office), I was able to pay the bill.  I was told there was one more line to endure, so I brought the paid receipt ten feet to another caged station, waited again and begged for the release from the tax block at the DMV—actually I sang a couple of lines from the old Engelbert Humperdinck recording, “Please Release Me.”  The clerk laughed, indulged me and worked her magic on their operating system. Dunkin Donuts drive through for sustenance fortified me for the forty five minutes back to the DMV in Middletown.

I stood in the line this time for ten minutes at the check in booth. A new clerk stamped her  imprimatur on my paperwork, found no tax block and issued my number: A342. With a heart full of hope, I consigned myself to the oak benches cleverly designed for discomfort with fifty others, heard them announce A328 and judged myself nearing the finish line. As it turned out there were “C” and “E” numbers too.  Two hours later, my number was called. With hat in hand and with bated breath, I went to yet another stand up booth with a barrier and presented myself with a clean slate. It took another fifteen minutes or so while she left to search for the right plates, took my sales tax and fees and printed out my new registration. I dragged myself home six hours after I ran to the registry to get my plates. Talked to my daughter and her beautiful girls out in the yard under the old sugar maple tree and began my recovery.

 

“The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency.”  Eugene McCarthy

 

Climbing-mountain-of-paperMy brother has been trying to help my ninety five year old mother obtain some help with her ever increasing need for nursing care from Mass Health (the model for Obamacare). He had to fill out a thirty eight page form. I called him, thinking that in his email he had to be exaggerating for effect.  Nope. Greg tried three times over two days to fax it to them. He got receipts certifying thirty eight pages had gone through without error each time. When he called them time after time, they said they never got it.  He persisted (necessary family trait dealing with government agencies) and held someone on the phone while he faxed it again, and they acknowledged that they had it. Over eighty years of paying taxes (her Social Security benefits are taxed), and she would need thirty eight pages to get some help. Without assistance from her family, she would not have a chance.

All the functionaries in my tale were courteous, most with smiles and wanting to help. No doubt the various managers and government agencies spent hugely on mandatory customer service training for their clerks after years of bad press about arrogant and unresponsive bureaucrats. Not the people anymore, but the fault is in the nature of the institution. Bureaucracies are terribly good at a few things: self perpetuation and clothing themselves in myriad rules that once set are holy; making new rules, arcane and impossible to understand; propagate like lab mice the detailed, redundant forms with jot and tittle pitfalls; and metastasizing like a malignancy.

The failures and flaws of Obamacare[i] reveal themselves as it settles in:  one third of the country with only one or no ACA exchange options in 2017; 16 to 23% increases in premiums in many regions this year; doctors retiring or cutting back due to the bureaucracy and rules to see more patients for whom they can possibly give quality care. I lost my doctor of over fifteen years because he ended his PCP practice to limit his work to cardiology. Joe told us he couldn’t see as many patients as the enforced standards mandated and still personalize, make more human and competently care for them without fear of making a terrible error. He is a superb care provider. I told him I would see him again when my heart gives out. Of course, not to worry, the government solution is what will invariably be the progressive government solution: more government bureaucracy and a single payer system. To be assured medical care will be less responsive, will engender multiple lines of the vacant-eyed disconsolate, and deliver poorer care with stacks of forms. Picture the DMV with physician assistants, computer diagnosis of our symptoms and clerks—lots of clerks with smiley faces and customer service certificates of training in their booths.

 

“If you’re going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy.  God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t.  Hyman Rickover

 

 

 

[i] Experts Predict Sharp Decline in Competition across the ACA Exchanges.  Avalere, Health care analysis and think tank.

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