When Moderate is Bad

On the front page of today’s Boston Globe, there’s an article about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, which complains that despite a hard swing to the left in the Democratic Party and his commanding reelection landslide win 1, he remains entrenched in the middle.

A couple of observations. First, When a Republican professes to be a moderate (i.e. liberal on social issues), the Globe calls it “taking a principled stand”, but when a Democrat professes to be a moderate (i.e. basically middle-of-the-road liberal on social and fiscal issues), it’s called “slow to take bold steps.”

Second, as I read the article, I’m left wondering where the news hook is. Why this article now? There is no particular policy initiative in question, no particular criticism from other Democrats. In other words, it’s either someone talking on background to the Globe who encouraged them to write this or the Globe’s editors themselves advocating for a harder turn to the left.

In fact, the reporter frames every issue in terms as if the most obvious correct course is the more liberal, the harder left one. There’s not even an acknowledgement that there are different ways of reaching the same goals, just the “way of courage” and the “way of playing it safe.”

Such is the state of political discourse here. We are becoming ever more radicalized. Our politicians are being dragged to the far left and the far right because only total adherence to the purity of ideology can be tolerated.

I don’t particularly like Marty Walsh, but I don’t live in the city and so I don’t have to worry about voting for or against him. But some of his policies seem to be benefiting the city. Many others I think are misguided or just plain wrong. Either way, I would prefer that those in power don’t pander to the extremes of their party, the way the presidential candidates are, but respond more to those in the vast middle who are evidently less vocal and less heard.

  1. But come on, when was the last time a sitting Boston mayor faced any kind of real electoral challenge? Decades!

Book Review: Goodbye, Paris

I like spy thrillers and stories of terrorist hunters and the like. Sometimes, it’s called military fiction, although it’s not always about soldiers. Think Tom Clancy’s books or Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series. I recently had a chance to read and review a new book “Goodbye Paris,” by Mike Bond, the third book in his Pono Hawkins series about a former Special Forces soldier-turned-surfer. In this story, Pono is called by an old friend to Paris to help him track down a terrorist who had once captured and tortured them. Somehow, Pono is the only man alive who can visually identify the terrorist. When he gets to Paris, everything has gone wrong and now he has to scramble to save individuals and Paris itself while getting both the girl and revenge.

I can tell that Mike Bond is a poet. His word choice and the way he structures the narrative have that rhythm and flow, which makes the book all the more interesting to read, especially given its 1st-person viewpoint. That 1st person narrator is another strong point because it limits how much we can know about what’s really going on and keeps us as off-balance as the main character, Pono. The action was also well done, written so as to be clearly understood what was happening.

My reservation, what keeps me from giving the book top grades, is its bleak worldview. It’s so relentlessly defeatist and negative about Islam and France and, well, everything. Yes, things are bad, but so bad? This is illustrated by how Bond portrays the fire at Notre Dame, which in the story happened before the action begins. (As an aside, I’m not sure if this was quickly inserted after the real fire or it’s an incredible coincidence.) In Bond’s telling, Notre Dame was destroyed by terrorists, burned out, demolished into a stone shell, all of its timeless artistic and spiritual glory gone. So depressing. But in reality, Notre Dame was damaged, badly, but all of her most important treasures survived and remain for us today. The world of Pono Hawkins is a sadder one than ours.

Another ding, from my point of view, is the unnecessary amount of sexual detail. I’m no prude; I’m a married dad of five. I don’t need the sex to be described to me if you tell me they had sex. Otherwise, it’s just indulging adolescent male fantasy.

The characters apart from Pono were fine, albeit they didn’t stray too far from stereotype. The aggressive female cop, the weary bureaucrat, and so on.

Nevertheless, I still give the book four out of five stars because the premise was interesting and the plotting and action were compelling enough to keep me wanting to come back to the book and find out what’s next, how it will be resolved, and who lives and dies.

Incivility isn’t the Problem, Contempt Is

Man yelling into a megaphone

Arthur Brooks writes in the New York Times that the problem in our societal discourse in America today is not incivility as so many have claimed, but contempt. We all know that people are more divided by politics than ever and politics has invaded everything. I’ve written about this problem often on this blog the last couple of years.

Brooks says that most people today suffer from “motive attribution asymmetry,” the assumption that you are motivated in your beliefs by love, while your ideological opposite is motivated by hate. Thus, if a person thinks illegal immigration should be controlled or stopped, someone of the opposite ideology thinks he hates immigrants. Or if a person wants to restrict the sale of guns, his ideological opposite thinks he hates gun owners. Brooks says this is worse than intolerance or incivility:

Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

The causes are clear. A 24/7 news cycle that must be fed, a proliferation of commentators and pundits, the echo chamber of social media, deceptive and manipulative memes, and so on all create an outrage-industrial complex, which makes us feel superior and allows us to assume the worst of those who disagree with us.
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More Nonsense about Free College

Progressives/liberals are obsessed with the idea of free college for everyone, probably because it’s an electoral winner. What it is is another trillion-dollar boondoggle. Here’s the latest proposal from the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe.

Marcella Bombardieri of the Center for American Progress pushes the group’s new plan that would give free in-state public college tuition, room, board, transportation and other expenses to students from families that make less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Middle-class families would pay up to 10 percent of their income. Upper income would pay 20 percent. (There’s nothing to indicate what they mean by “middle” and “upper”.) If they go to private schools or out-of-state public schools, they would pay “slightly higher.”

For their part, schools would be given golden handcuffs of promises of more federal and state funding in exchange for certain guarantees of quotas filled and “benchmarks” reached, i.e. “teach this in this way and enforce these social engineering rules, follow these government mandates, etc.”

What would be the cost of this little plan? Just $60 billion per year, they claim, a pittance compared to … name your big federal program here. But of course, the real cost would be more than that. Way more than that. Why?

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Uber Deception on the Benefits of Congestion Pricing

An Uber executive writes an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe touting the benefits of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in Boston. Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy, says that it’s a fact that traffic in Boston is among the worst in the country and that are mass transit systems need new investment. But his argument is based on sleight of hand and misdirection and his claims of Uber’s selflessness are misleading.

Before looking at Salzberg’s claims, I should note that congestion pricing and per-mile tolling have long been part of some politicians’ wish lists. As recently as 2016, the Legislature considered a bill to begin a pilot program to tax drivers based on the number of miles traveled. Earlier, the former state governor Deval Patrick floated the idea of toll gates at every exit on every highway in the state. So, this is not some pie-in-the-sky isolated proposal by Salzberg and Uber.

Now to begin, Salzberg claims that “all vehicles should pay to use the roads,” implying that unless you’re paying a toll you’re driving for free. This is false. We arelady pay for the privilege of driving on Massachusetts roads through a use tax that is the gas tax. In fact, we pay 26.54 cents per gallon in state tax 1, which in 2016 brought in $766 million total, a significant growth from prior years due to both an increase in the tax from 24 cents in 2013 and the rebounding economy. Now, advocates will claim that increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles is lowering the amount of gas consumed (that’s not a bad thing!), but as we can see that is a very long term problem, not a short term one. However, the bottom line is that Massachusetts taxpayers are indeed paying a road fee to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars per year in just gas taxes.
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The New Censorship

Bill of Rights

I find the mass banning of Alex Jones of Infowars from nearly every online media platform to be chilling. Sure, the case can be made that InfoWars is the source of a lot of crap online, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator misinformation that contributes to our dark times. That’s what makes it so easy to overlook the seriousness of the current situation.

This past Monday, Apple, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, and even LinkedIn all banned Jones’ InfoWars from their platforms. Twitter is expected to follow suit. This effectively muzzles Jones, preventing his video podcast from reaching the mass audiences he’d been reaching before. Sure, he still has his web site—for now—but without YouTube, he’ll have to put together a complex and expensive streaming video solution to replace it.

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Education is Not About Making Better Workers

US Department of Education

While I am on record about favoring smaller government and in general I applaud President Trump’s recent proposal to downsize and merge some federal cabinets and agencies, something about the merger of the Departments of Labor and Education stuck in my craw.

What bothers me is how the idea betrays the current belief—which crosses party lines—that education is about raising a new generation of employees and workers.

Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of education and labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and retirement security.

We hear all the time that we need to have better schools for our children so that can have better opportunities for jobs. We see parents fretting over pre-school programs in order to ensure their children can go to the right colleges and get high-paying jobs after graduation. But is that really what education is? Is education primarily just another name for trade school?

Yes, I want my kids to have every opportunity to live out God’s plan for their lives as adults, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to contribute to society. But I also want them to be good people. I want them to be thoughtful, intelligent, and curious about the world. I want them to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them in nature and in music, art, poetry, and books. I want them to know what it means to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. I want them to understand history in order to make wise decisions about the future.

Education isn’t about sitting in a school for 12 or 16 or 20 years in order to secure a career. Education is about human formation, about learning to think, to know, and how to ask questions. Education is about becoming a better person.

Government is perhaps one of the worst instruments for doing any of that and the higher up the government food chain you go, the worse that it becomes. Because education is about forming individuals, whereas the federal government only sees statistical millions.

It would be better if the plan was to eliminate the federal Department of Education all together and re-examine how we go about educating children in this country. But, alas, given the state of politics today, we’d be lucky to see these two cabinet agencies merge.

Even When He’s Right, Trump is Wrong

These are strange political times we’re living in. (Congratulate me on stating the obvious.) For me, it’s because we have a president whose policies I think, in general, are taking us in the right direction, but who is personally and politically so off-base that I have a hard time reconciling the conflict. I have a former colleague who insists that stating whether we think President Trump is a good person or not is stupid, when all that matters is his policies and decisions. But the ends do not justify the means and, as was decided by many conservatives in the late 90s, character and integrity matter.

That’s all preface to my main point, which is that the way the media, both mainstream and social, are reacting to Trump is shameful, even given his character issues and boorishness. It’s one thing to to lean one way or the other in your coverage and reactions. It’s quite another to baldy distort reality, to frame every disagreement as evil intent, or to outright lie.

Some examples are in order, but keep in mind that these are by no means isolated. They are drawn at random from today’s news and are representative of the vast avalanche of similar news reports every day.

Choosing His Own People

Here’s one: The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park has been reassigned to Washington, DC, from his current plum posting, but Daniel Wenk doesn’t want to go so he’s submitted his resignation, which is his right. However, he wanted to stay in his job until next March, instead of leaving by the deadline he was given of August. The Interior Department said No and he claims to be ill-used.

Okay, that’s the bare bones of the situation, but the real media bias crops up in the last paragraph:

At least eight other senior executives are being reassigned. Critics say many of the reassignments appear to be motivated by politics, sweeping aside those who disagree with the administration on issues such as climate change, wildlife management, and wilderness preservation.

Well…yeah. Of course it’s motivated by politics. The critics seem to suggest that a President doesn’t have the right to have leaders within the executive branch who will implement his policies. Shouldn’t that be understood? The President gets to make policy. Except when it’s Trump? This is, by no means, the most egregious example of bias, but it highlights how common and mainstream it is.

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Rolling Back the Mandate

The Trump administration will be keeping a campaign promise very soon when it restores the rights of employers and removes the Affordable Care Act requirement that they buy birth control for their employees or their dependents.

This was one of the most contentious provision of Obamacare when it passed half-a-decade ago and has been the subject of lawsuits ever since from religious employers, primarily Catholic institutions, but also private businesses who have moral objections.

Of course, the news coverage makes it sound like employers will now be issuing chastity belts in place of the Pill. They’re using terms like “roll back” and “losing benefits”, as if there were no other way for women to obtain the Pill.

Incidentally, it’s difficult to track down the true no-insurance cost of a month of birth control. Those opposed to the mandate have often cited $9 per month, but much of the media who demand the coverage cite $15 to $50 per month. However, in every story I consulted, that number came from Planned Parenthood, which has a vested interest in making it seem too expensive for poor women to buy it for themselves.

Of course, the reality is that fertility is not a disease and there are lots of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter remedies and other health and wellness products that aren’t covered by insurance. The simplest remedy to pregnancy is to avoid sex. If you want to get technical about it, you can avoid sex during the fertile times of the month. All it takes is a thermometer and a chart.

The fact is that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is the infantilization of America. Whether it’s birth control or some other basic “necessity”, we keep turning to our employers and the government to provide us with all we need, rather than taking care of ourselves. Frankly, the surest way to make something expensive anyway is to make the government buy it or mandate it.

Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

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