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At Least There’s an (Improbable) Correction for Senate Process Abuse

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The Inherent Racism of Gun Control

Writing for the Independent Institute’s Beacon, Anthony Gregory argues that the mechanics of gun control are implicitly racist:

Perhaps the most telling data concerns the racial makeup of who goes to prison for gun violations. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, for Fiscal Year 2011, 49.6% of those sentenced to federal incarceration with a primary offense of firearms violations were black, 20.6% were Hispanic, and only 27.5% were white.

This is how gun laws actually work—those caught violating them go to prison. For the mere act of owning an illegal weapon—not necessarily for using it, not for threatening anyone with it, not for being irresponsible with it—people who have harmed no one are locked up in prison for years at a time. As with the rest of the criminal justice system, particularly the war on drugs, these laws disproportionately harm the poor and minorities. That is the inescapable reality of gun control.

Gregory further argues that we’re not just talking gang members’ getting caught with weapons that they may have used or may intend to use for illegal purposes.  In poorer, more-dangerous environments good people have incentive to make provisions to protect themselves, and as with every other area of society in which the government erects barriers and imposes costs, people with lower income are less able to make sure they’ve got all of their Ts crossed.  That’s especially true when minorities are more likely to have some sort of criminal record.

Murdering people is already illegal, and doing it on a large scale is among the most stunningly illegal things one can do.  Broadening the list of activities that are illegal (like owning a particular type of gun or carrying a gun on one’s person) may or may not make such killers unable to do what they want to do, but on a much larger scale, the laws will snag people who are innocent of any other crime.  Putting them on the list of society’s criminals will only harm their future prospects at the same time that it puts them in the company of actual criminals.

Even if one believes that the number of lives ruined through this unintended effect is worth the number of lives saved by a ban, one must take it into account.

(via Stephen Green)

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Rhode Island Senate Leaders Declare Representative Democracy Dead in Rhode Island

To the Rhode Island Senate’s shame, it has filed legislation for what is likely the first-ever expulsion of a state senator, and it was done, as the bill states, based on some now-resolved campaign finance problems, “unwanted media coverage,” and some allegations and criminal charges for which Coventry Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle has not yet gone to trial.

As argued in this space, yesterday, whatever one thinks of Kettle’s moral standing to claim continuing political support, this extreme measure by the Senate goes beyond attacking his rights to attacking the rights of Rhode Island voters.  It isn’t up to voters to find a candidate whom the insiders in the State House can accept; it’s up to the legislators to accept whomever the voters send.

The fact that the lead sponsor of the bill is Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio — who was himself arrested in 2012 and brought “unwanted media coverage” to the chamber — puts an exclamation point on the political nature of this move.  The involvement of Senate Majority Leader Dennis Algiere does not alleviate this problem, especially after recent revelations that he played a role attempting to broker peace at an initially secret meeting between Ruggerio and Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello.

Moreover, the fact that the legislation includes detailed documentation of the allegations, as attachments or evidence, suggests that there’s more going on here than a desire to resolve a legislative problem.  I’ve never seen external documents appended as part of a bill before, and I’ve read thousands of bills in the past few years.

One needn’t come to the defense of Senator Kettle or his alleged actions to suggest that this is a step too far and moves Rhode Island governance to another level of intrinsic corruption.  If Kettle is no longer acceptable to his constituents, then they should remove him.  The other politicians in the state Senate shouldn’t take it upon themselves to ensure that a district goes without representation for an entire legislative session.  Discomfort with the subject matter of the allegations shouldn’t lead Rhode Islanders to give over their basic rights as voters to a small group of political elites.

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Weight-Lifting Disabled Firefighter Loses Pension

Well, it looks like John Sauro won’t get to keep his disability pension, after all.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling finding against him summarizes the story succinctly:

In July 1998, plaintiff suffered a right shoulder injury while performing his firefighter duties.  Mr. Sauro had been a firefighter since August 5, 1991.  In October 2000, the board granted plaintiff an accidental disability pension for his on-the-job shoulder injury.  In April 2011, footage of plaintiff lifting substantial weights at the gym aired on a local television channel.  The board subsequently ordered plaintiff to submit to an independent medical examination (IME).  At the 2011 IME, it was determined that the plaintiff remained disabled from his 1998 injury.  Again in 2013, the board directed plaintiff to undergo an IME, to be conducted by Brian McKeon, M.D., in Boston, Massachusetts; plaintiff refused to do so because, he asserted, he was bedridden due to both physical and psychological illnesses.  The city then hired a private investigator to undertake surveillance of plaintiff.  In September 2013, plaintiff was observed leaving his home, driving his vehicle, and shopping at various retail stores.  On December 18, 2013, the board voted to suspend plaintiff’s accidental disability pension based on his failure to attend the IME that had been scheduled for October 16, 2013.

To lay out the calendar, then, Sauro worked for seven years.  He then lived off of this benefit for 13 years, until WPRI’s Tim White caught him doing a strenuous workout.  The payments have continued over the course of the past seven years while the matter was tied up in court.

As the decision suggests, the purpose of disability pensions is “to compensate work-injury-related disabilities and encourage qualified persons who are relieved of those disabilities to return to work.”  We shouldn’t have a system in which an injury on the job that doesn’t leave one unable to do any job becomes the equivalent of one of those old lottery tickets that paid out a decent annual income as a prize.

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Getting the Worst of Both Sides

Looking at the political and economic system of the United States, especially when it’s not doing so well, I wonder whether we don’t end up getting the worse attributes of our two competing political philosophies.  Something similar came to mind while reading a “Weekend Interview” that Tunku Varadarajan conducted with University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer:

Mr. Zimmer attributes this campus intolerance to “the national mood,” as well as a change in “the ambient environment” in which universities exist. He describes a sort of national attention-deficit disorder: “How much is the national environment amenable to long-term thinking and investment, versus just responding to particular issues, particular needs?” The importance of education and research, he says, “has certainly come under question” in recent years, in part because “the entire tone of the country has shifted toward people being more focused on the immediate and the short-term.”

Of course, the importance of education has also come under question because it has become more expensive at the same time that the news is increasingly filled with other worldly stories from America’s campuses and people observe much of the garbage that fills lists of degree offerings and curricula.

But to the point, it occurs to me that short-term thinking and short attention spans might be the combined effect of capitalism in a prosperous society, having become dislodged from a daily struggle to survive and a culture of modesty, and the practical advantages of campus activists.  The first trains us to focus on the now, and the other thrives when people demand change immediately, with limited consideration, and without a long-term perspective on whether a given course of action will produce the desired result.

Zimmer also believes that America is becoming a less attractive place for people to head when they want to thrive, and I tend to agree.

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The Coming Tech Dystopia

Joel Kotkin describes our slide toward a tech-oligarch-driven dystopia:

It goes without saying, this is not a matter of merely wanting to do good. These companies are promoting these new cities as fitter, happier, more productive, and convenient places, even as they are envisioning cities with expanded means to monitor our lives, and better market our previously private information to advertisers.

My first thought is to wonder whether Kotkin was consciously quoting from the song “Fitter Happier” from Radiohead’s album OK Computer, which starts with the lines, “Fitter, happier/More productive,” and ends with:  “Calm, fitter, healthier and more productive/A pig in a cage on antibiotics.”

My second thought is that it ultimately sounds simply like the progressive vision for society:

This drive is the latest expansion of the Valley’s narcissistic notion of “changing the world” through disruption of its existing structures and governments and the limits those still place on the tech giants’ grandest ambitions. This new urban vision negates the notion of organic city-building and replaces it with an algorithmic regime that seeks to rationalize, and control, our way of life.

There may be the thin difference that progressives want power while the tech oligarchs ultimately want money, but those amount to the same thing when all is said and done.

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Clarifying the Meaning of P3

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