Search results: rule of law

Returning to the Rule of Law and Consent of the Governed

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial applauded the work of the Trump administration in its “great rules rollback”:

The results have been impressive. Ms. [Neomi] Rao [of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] reported this month that through Sept. 30 the Trump Administration had taken 67 deregulatory actions but only three new significant regulatory actions. That’s a 22 to 1 ratio. She also reported that since fall 2016 more than 1,500 planned regulatory actions have been withdrawn or delayed. For fiscal 2018, the current agenda includes 448 deregulatory actions and 131 regulatory actions, a better than 3 to 1 ratio.

One reason for success is forcing agencies to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act, which outlines a public comment period for proper rule-making and which the Obama Administration routinely ignored.

Imagine government following its own rules!  After eight years of Obama, that feels new and refreshing — as if we have the rule of law and the consent of the governed (or are moving back toward it).

In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing a number of Trump skeptics come around (which is to say, people more skeptical than I was, which was pretty skeptical).  The reevaluation is justified, and minds ought to be changing across the political spectrum, not the least for reasons like this:

… the far larger impact is lifting the pall of government hassle and arbitrary enforcement from business. In the Obama era, CEOs never knew when or how a federal agency might strike for political reasons, no matter the law. Simply lifting that constant fear has had a liberating effect on risk-taking and investment.


A One-Two-Three for Fundamental Corruption of the Rule of Law

One problem with President Donald Trump is that he’s like a flashy object in a pile of stuff.  Other things may be more significant, but he draws attention. On PowerLine, John Hinderaker connects some dots for one of those things:

So it appears that what happened here is that Democratic Party activists in the Department of Homeland Security either created a bogus document or dug up a poorly-researched draft document that had never been issued, and fed it to Democratic Party activists at the Associated Press. The Democratic Party activists at the AP published a story based on the anonymous document, which two Democratic Party activists on the [judiciary] bench used as a pretext for orders enjoining the president’s travel order.

This is how an ideological and partisan group constructs narratives, with a one-two-three from insider bureaucrats to judges who overstep their offices to undermine the elected president.  This stuff is inimical to a free society and the rule of law no matter which political side does it.


Yes, Let’s Keep the Rule of Law

Andrew McCarthy has been taking the lead in noting the basic principle behind some of President Trump’s immigration policy:

On Tuesday, John Kelly, President Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, published a six-page, single-spaced memorandum detailing new guidance on immigration enforcement. Thereupon, I spent about 1,500 words summarizing the guidance in a column at National Review. Brevity being the soul of wit, both the memo and my description of it could have been reduced to a single, easy-to-remember sentence:

Henceforth, the United States shall be governed by the laws of the United States.

That it was necessary for Secretary Kelly to say more than this — and, sadly, that such alarm has greeted a memo that merely announces the return of the rule of law in immigration enforcement — owes to the Obama administration abuses of three legal doctrines: prosecutorial discretion, preemption, and separation of powers (specifically, the executive usurpation of legislative power).

The erosion of the rule of law in the United States (and, of course, in Rhode Island) is a topic on which I’ve written a great deal in recent years.  Note the political dynamic, though:  The Left (encompassing the mainstream media, universities, various supposed good-government groups, and others) is willing to look the other way when the rule of law erodes in ways they like under progressive government, but then they’ll howl if the Right reaffirms the rules and scream if they can so much as insinuate that conservatives are promoting some similar erosion that doesn’t serve the progressive ideology.

Let’s hope the eternal record of the Internet (1) stays free and (2) gives the people an edge against the ideologues by helping us remember what has been said and done in the past.


Clinton and the Rule of Law

It sure does seem that Hillary Clinton has been almost daring the federal bureaucracy to uphold the rule of law, and the Obama Administration has casually refused to take the bait.  From CNN:

Early this year as the investigation into Clinton’s private email server was in full swing, several FBI field offices approached the Justice Department asking to open a case regarding the relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, according to a law enforcement official. At the time, DOJ declined because it had looked into allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation around a year earlier and found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to open a case.

This sure looks like a cover-up.  Wouldn’t it behoove the federal government to be absolutely thorough and transparent in putting to rest any suspicions — particularly considering that the suspicions originated through “several FBI field offices,” not the vast right-wing conspiracy that Clinton has long offered her supporters as an excuse to ignore reality?  After all, this is a person likely to be the President of the United States, and it can’t be good for the country to have open questions about uninvestigated suspicions.

We can only fear what sort of damage a Clinton presidency would do to the rule of law should she win the office, just as we can only fear what sort of damage an unpredictable and apparently ignorant Donald Trump would do in the same position.  The more important conclusion, though, is that the federal government is already illegitimately exercising power because it is acting outside the bounds of the rule of law, which the citizenry should consider to be a violation of the contract that binds us to following the law ourselves.

As I’ve written before, our country has reached the point that we should follow the law to avoid prison or other consequences — and insofar as the law happens to correspond with moral principles — but should feel no moral responsibility to obey an illegitimate government.


Gone, Gone, the Rule of Law

In his latest “Afterburner” video, Bill Whittle gets it exactly right, at least in describing the sense that a sizable portion of the American public gets about how our system of government really works after seven years of Barack Obama as president, noting that one of the penalties for Hillary Clinton’s withholding official records from her time as Secretary of State would be a lifetime bar on her holding political office:

So, let’s just come out and state what we all know to be true: Hillary Clinton will either walk Scott free for treasonous graft or criminal incompetence or she will be indicted and lose the nomination solely on the personal whim of Barack Hussein Obama and the merits of the deal that the Clintons can cut with his majesty in order to save her skin.  Everybody knows this is true.  Everybody knows that justice in the absence of a press corp is now at the whim of this president, and the only reason she’s being prosecuted in the first place is because it pleases Barack Obama to do so.

Whittle refers to the report that Hillary Clinton went to Obama and told him to call off his attack dogs, emphasizing the erstwhile truism that federal agents aren’t supposed to be the president’s attack dogs at all, but rather objective enforcers of the law.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer sounded a similar note on a Fox News panel, talking about the story that the American people are going to be handed from Clinton’s Benghazi-related testimony, yesterday:

We’re not going to get the contradictions, we’re not going to get the facts, we’re not going to get the real story underlying it. We’re living in an age where what you say and its relation with the facts is completely irrelevant as we see in the presidential campaign. And it’s carrying over into the hearings.

The system of society and governance that defined the United States is dead.  It can be revived, but until that happens, it’s gone.  An ideologically homogenized academia, superficial and silly arts and cultural institutions, and a partisan news media have all decided that the American people can’t be trusted with the sharp object of reality, so their fantasy is what we get… at least until reality snarls so meanly that even Hollywood special effects can’t cover it up.


Kentucky County Clerk and the Rule of Law

The specific controversy of the Kentucky county clerk who is refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses will come and go, but David French gets at the more important point:

… what we’re watching unfold in Kentucky isn’t so much the “rule of law” as the raw exercise of power. Judicial revolutionaries simply wield more power than Kentucky county clerks — partly because the judges enjoy the popular support of millions of Americans (including public officials), partly because their lifetime tenure almost entirely insulates them from accountability, and partly because even the most vigorous dissenters understand that answering one revolution with another will upend the entire system, a price they’re not willing to pay. At least not yet.

In fact, the rule of law has increasingly become a mere talking point, a weapon wielded by the Courts and the Obama administration when it likes a given legal outcome, but disregarded when pesky things like “democracy” and “procedure” interfere with the demands of social justice. For the Obama administration, even proper regulatory rulemaking can be too burdensome. Rule by executive order or even departmental letter replaces constitutional process, with the social-justice Left cheering every step of the way.

We’ve allowed so much authority to bubble up to the highest level of government that it’s increasingly impossible for people who disagree with the elite to find a place in which to live under the policies that they would prefer.  We’re also allowing deterioration of the sense that the law applies to everybody equally — and means what it says in all cases.  That makes control over the federal government an absolute necessity (including circumventing a body of elected representatives from around the country if they impede that control).

Some see the surprisingly successful campaign of Donald Trump as primarily an expression of frustration that the system appears to be rigged to allow no real choices at the highest level. Unless we give Americans tangible evidence that participation in the political process really does make a difference, even at the federal level, and unless we return to toleration for substantially different government at the local and state levels from one place to the next, and unless our broader civic system (expanded to include news media and social institutions) is more overtly fair and even-handed, we’re guaranteeing tyranny from the powerful and revolutionary unrest from those who have been shut out.


Riotous Ripples in the Rule of Law

It’s one thing to read about riots in a distant city.  It’s another thing to see ripples of the same disregard for law and order closer to home, as in Ethan Shorey’s Valley Breeze article:

Police in Pawtucket say a crowd of young people pelted them with bottles and rocks following a Memorial Day fireworks display at McCoy Stadium Monday night.

Police responded to the area of Jenks Junior High School shortly after 9:30 p.m. for several reports of groups fighting. Officers were confronted with large groups totaling about 75 to 100 people. As they tried to disperse the groups, they were hit with bottles and rocks.

A resident who was in the area of the skate park outside Jenks said that teens made reference to the Baltimore riots as police hit them with pepper spray, at least one shouting, “this ain’t Baltimore.”

I wonder if stories like this are popping up in local newspapers across the country.  And if they are, is this a destructive fad or a crack in our civilization?


Rule of Law as Guarantor of Freedom

The other day, I noted Dinesh D’Souza’s suggestion that freedom is a mechanism to guarantee justice.  Admittedly, the text of the post drifted a bit from the intention for which I crafted the title.  The bottom-line point that might have gotten lost was that a free nation, in which the government’s role is constrained, limits the opportunity of the government to manipulate the public.  (It also limits the incentive, since gaining control of government doesn’t gain one as much.)  It’s furthermore incompatible with a free nation for the government to be spying on its people or for the chief executive’s campaign to be setting up secretive organizations to manipulate the electorate.

Kevin Williamson brings in a consideration that is interwoven with the topic.  Writing about the Supreme Court’s Halbig decision, “that the law says what the law says” when it comes to ObamaCare subsidies, Williamson goes on:

The Hammurabic Code, along with its presumptive predecessors, represented something radical and new in human history. With the law written down — with the law fixed — a man who had committed no transgression no longer had reason to tremble before princes and potentates. If the driver of oxen had been paid his statutory wage, if a man’s contractual obligations had been satisfied, and if his life was unsullied by violations of the law, handily carved upon slabs of igneous rock for all to see and ingest, then that man was, within the limits of his law, free. …

… We write laws down in order that citizens may know what is permissible under the generally promulgated rules of the polity. The writing down of laws was the first step on the road from subject to citizen, and to reverse that is to do violence to more than grammatical propriety …

As I noted imperfectly the other day, freedom from tyranny is a guarantor of justice, and we cannot have freedom if the tyrant is able to change the rules and laws on a whim.  If the ground might dissolve beneath you once you’ve stepped off the tyrant’s path, you aren’t actually free to step from the path.  In other words, the rule of law is a guarantor of freedom and a prerequisite if freedom is to guarantee justice.

That’s why Americans must insist on the rules, and that the language of the law means what it says.  Rhode Island is an excellent example of the insider-dominated wasteland to which a failure to do so inevitably leads, and even we in the Ocean State have much farther to fall.


Surreal at the State House II: John Simmons Versus the Rule of Law

During testimony before the Rhode Island House of Representatives Oversight Committee last night advocating for full payment of the 38 Studios moral obligation bonds, John Simmons of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council repeatedly made the point that the bond market will not recognize any difference between non-payment of moral obligation versus non-payment of general obligation debt. They will both be considered “default” by the state of Rhode Island.

Simmons stated that, based upon the bonding agreement, there was “fully an obligation of the state of Rhode Island to make the payments if the underlying transaction went under”. Representatives Spencer Dickinson and Mike Chippendale both challenged this.

Rep. Dickinson paraphrased an Economic Development Corporation bond prospectus, referring to a statement that “there’s no possible way that the state or any municipality is intended to obligate itself in the case of these bonds” (on page 35, according to the Rep). Mr. Simmons responded that he had seen similar language in other prospectuses “30, 40, 50 maybe a lot more times”. Pressed by Dickinson as to why this did not establish a clear difference between moral and general obligation bonds, Mr. Simmons read from a ratings agency statement, and said that the agency “is saying to you that it doesn’t make a difference to them if it’s GO, moral obligation or appropriation debt. If you do not pay it is default on debt. They’re giving an equal weight, in the sense of how they approach it”.

Rep. Chippendale quoted from the law that authorized the bonds…

I’m just going to read it. “The 2010 bonds and the interest thereon do not constitute a debt, liability or obligation of the state or any political subdivision thereof, and neither the faith or credit nor the taking or taxing power of the state or any political subdivision thereof is pledged to the payment of the bonds, or the interest thereon. That’s a fairly clear statement. Of course, you did address that and you said that’s fairly boilerplate…

Mr. Simmons’ reply was that…

What you have in the language is fairly standard boilerplate language on this type of debt, constant debt, this is a fairly large amount.

But a blithe dismissal of some very clear language in the bond authorization is a blithe assertion that everyone — legislators, citizens and investors — should know that the rules that the financial industry makes up for itself (and for its own benefit, by the way) can automatically override the plain text of a law. Finance industry decrees are the real final law of the land; the law made by legislatures, on the other hand, is only real to the degree that it does not conflict with the limits that financiers lay down.

This kind of system, where the people are expected to accept that there are privileged classes who can ignore the plain meaning of actual laws made by the government chosen by the representatives of the people, cannot be reconciled with the rule of law. If the best argument that John Simmons can muster about there being no difference between moral obligation and general obligation bonds is that bondholder and ratings agency decrees can override what the law says, his opinion on this aspect of repayment deserves summary dismissal.

More to come on this topic…


The IRS Strives to Be Above the Law

A deeper question that arises from John Vecchione and James Valvo’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is whether the creation of an income tax makes this sort of corruption inevitable:

Congress has passed several laws, including the Regulatory Flexibility Act and the Congressional Review Act, that require agencies to report on their rules’ economic impact to lawmakers and the public. The president also conducts oversight of agency rules through the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. These good-government measures are meant to ensure unelected bureaucrats can be checked by the public.

Crucially, they are all triggered by an initial determination by the agency of whether its new rule will have a “significant economic impact.” But as our report shows, the IRS has made up a series of exemptions that allow it to avoid basic scrutiny. The agency takes the position that its rules have no economic effect because any impact is attributable to the underlying law that authorized the rule, not the agency’s decision to issue or alter the rule.

A healthy understanding of government process proves this reasoning to be circular:  Agencies aren’t supposed to make rules that aren’t authorized by statute, so every effect of every rule could be said to originate with legislators.  A rule with effects that are not attributable to the enabling legislation is a rule that should not be implemented in the first place.

In authorizing an income tax, however, the government created an agency capable of entering into our lives and manipulating, even dictating, our use of our own resources.  Every rule of such an agency will affect the economy, and therefore every rule ought to trigger a review.

When we’ve discussed tax changes purely from the perspective of revenue and economic effect, I’ve argued that Rhode Island’s circumstances suggest that the state would be better off keeping the income tax and eliminating the sales tax.  From a philosophical point of view, however, it’s hard to argue that a free people can really tolerate an income tax — at least one that isn’t more like a sales tax on labor, meaning simple, flat, and easy to calculate.


As We Slowly Become Subjects with Different Rules

The story of the school teacher who was bumped from her United Airlines flight to make way for a congresswoman seems like a small thing, in the grand scheme:

A passenger on a flight from Houston to Washington D.C. has accused United Airlines of giving her first-class seat to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. D-Houston, and then threatening to remove her from the plane for complaining and snapping a photo of the Houston congresswoman. ‘It was just so completely humiliating,’ said Jean-Marie Simon, a 63-year-old attorney and private school teacher who used 140,000 miles on Dec. 3 to purchase the first-class tickets to take her from Washington D.C. to Guatemala and back home.

But in that grand scheme, it seems representative, and I can’t help but connect it with the latest strange tidbit to come out about the FBI’s (quote/unquote) investigation of Hillary Clinton’s recklessness as Secretary of State:

“We have email evidence from Andrew McCabe indicating that Hillary Clinton was going to get an ‘HQ Special,’ a headquarters special,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) alleged on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” Friday. …

He explained that the “headquarter special” was an indication that “the normal processes at the Washington field office weren’t followed and he had a very small group of people that had a pro-Hillary Clinton bias who had a direct role in changing the outcome of that investigation from one that likely should have been criminal to one where she was able to walk.”

It’s plain to see what’s going on in the United States.  A political elite lives above the law, more like royalty, while the rest of us are supposed to make accommodations for them and follow the surreally complex rules ourselves.  The notion that politicians and deep-state bureaucrats see We, the People, as their bosses is increasingly difficult to sustain.


Fancy Funding Deals That Skirt the Law Should Be Avoided

On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve detailed an example of how the town government appropriates money in a way that (let’s say) conflicts with the clear language of the town’s Home Rule Charter:

The complicating factor is that the vote [to create a restricted revenue source for pay-as-you-throw trash bag revenue] was taken as a resolution in the FTM docket, which should have made it valid for the duration of that year’s budget only. Resolutions have to be renewed each year, and the PAYT restricted account has not been renewed. In other words, the town has been putting that money into a restricted account illegally for six years. To avoid an annual vote, the council would have to present voters with an opportunity to write the account into the charter or provide some other vote akin to a bond approval, making clear to voters that the restricted account will go on forever, or end at some future date.

To some extent, these sorts of things should be expected.  Local government generally consists of people who aren’t government experts and who often see themselves as engaged in a sort of volunteer service; process rules can therefore seem frustrating and unreasonable.  Additionally, in a council-based system, they’re often overseeing a rolling series of town managers and solicitors who lack a long-term institutional knowledge (which is just objective fact) and have financial incentive to tell the council that it can do what its members want to do (which can be corrupt).

In my view, that’s a reason to keep government limited.  If a transaction is too technically or politically complex for a council and well-paid staff to make it under the clear rules of the law, then it shouldn’t be done.  In this case, the council created a new rubbish fee without taking additional steps that would have required additional votes of the public, which sounds quite a bit like the proposed PawSox stadium deal, specifically, and moral obligation bonds, in general.

I often wonder how many similar examples could be found throughout Rhode Island if residents were to make a dedicated practice of combing through their municipal governments’ audits.


Sales Tax and Another Threatened Lawsuit Against Money-Grabbing Government

Is it me or are the policies the Rhode Island General Assembly is implementing sparking more lawsuits, lately, indicating a desperation to find new ways to squeeze money out of a strangling economy? Here’s the latest:

The new rules order online retailers with no physical presence in the state to collect the state’s 7-percent sales tax on purchases by Rhode Island buyers or mail those buyers a letter notifying them that they owe the equivalent use tax on the items. Buyers already owe use tax on purchases made from out-of-state sellers, including websites, but very few actually pay it at the end of the year.

NetChoice, an e-commerce trade group that’s challenged online sales tax policies in states across the country — including a current lawsuit against Massachusetts — is urging senators to reject the sales tax provisions in the Rhode Island budget, which they call “privacy invading,” costly and unfair.

“Don’t pass this law,” said Carl Szabo, senior policy counsel at Washington, D.C.-based NetChoice. “It is hard to understand what the purpose of it is except for the perception that the Internet is hurting Main Street. Now Amazon, Walmart and most of the top 20 online retailers collect and remit sales tax for Rhode Island.”

NetChoice is coming off a victory on Wednesday when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, responding to the lawsuit, abruptly canceled plans to begin collecting sales tax on Internet purchases from out-of-state retailers.

The next question is who is going to sue over the fact that Rhode Island will effectively be double-taxing the thousands and thousands of Rhode Islanders who pay the minimum use tax on their income tax returns even though they’ve already paid sales tax on all of their online purchases?


Overtime Rule Affects Freedom and Innovation

Multiple posts on Instapundit, today, expand on the harm of the Obama administration’s mandating expanded requirements for overtime, which I mentioned yesterday.  Walter Olson hits on a key point:

Perhaps most significant, it would force millions of workers into time-clock or hour-tracking arrangements even if they themselves prefer the freedom and perks of salaried status. … Many workers will also lose the option of “comp time” arrangements, often valued as family-friendly, by which extra hours worked one week are offset by a paid day off in the next.

James Sherk fills in more similar details:

The rule will change how employees work. Overtime-eligible salaried employees must carefully log their hours. Each time they respond to a work e-mail, take a work phone call, or do any other work from home, their employer must track and pay them for it. If they do not, they risk getting sued. Trial lawyers filed 8,800 Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits in 2015, many of them for employers who did not compensate overtime-eligible employees for work done remotely.

In order to avoid lawsuits, many employers deny flexible work arrangements to overtime-eligible employees. Virtually all employers who permit remote work and flexible work arrangements allow overtime-exempt employees to use them.

Apart from the economics that I discussed, yesterday, the act of enforcing such regulations and the necessary calculations that businesses must make have an effect, too.  Even if both the employer and the employee wish to experiment with some new arrangement, the employer has to carefully consider the possibility that they’ll accidentally run afoul of the rules and create vulnerability for a lawsuit.

Ultimately, all innovation is related.  Innovative ways of working create new markets and may open up the possibility of innovative new methods, services, or products, while also freeing up costs in the economy that can be put toward something more desirable.  If you commute to work, would you rather spend your money on gas and your time on traveling, or would something else be of higher value?  The answer is obvious.

One unspoken rule of big government, though, is that society can never be permitted to advance more quickly than unimaginative politicians and insiders can figure out ways to profit from innovations and further entrench their power.


Laws Are for the People, Not Their Betters in Government

During yesterday’s discussion on the Rhode Island House floor of H7147, the bill’s primary sponsor, Democrat John “Jay” Edwards (Tiverton, Portsmouth) presented it as a matter of fairness.  Those poor, put-upon elected officials have to provide some degree of transparency into their finances, while local grassroots groups that (very suspiciously) oppose many of the things those politicians want to do to their towns get away with spending money to voice their opinions on local issues without having to provide the politicians’ friends with ammunition for whisper-and-intimidation campaigns.

I’ll leave it for later to go into detail about Edwards’s dishonesty during his State House performance, yesterday.  For the moment, I’ll simply note the audacity of this line of argument coming from a supporter of imprisoned former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox and move on to a national issue that gives some sense of the contempt that Americans should have when government officials chastise the People to be more transparent:

The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group’s Ethan Barton reports that lobbyist, Michael J. Brady, asked in a private email for a little favor of EPA General Counsel Joe Goffman, his insider friend at EPA: “Joe, would you please send this email to Gina for me? I would have sent it to her directly with a cc to you but I don’t have a private email address for her and would prefer to not use an office email address.” (Emphasis added) Brady represents a number of green energy groups that want to support EPA’s Cross-State Pollution Rule. Goffman

The casual tone of the email exchange shows “that it is a regular practice of senior officials of this EPA to use private e-mail accounts and other ‘off-book’ techniques to craft rules with ‘green’ activists with clear financial and political interests is now clear beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Chris Horner, the man who exposed former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s “Richard Windsor” email moniker.

As I said, this is a national matter, but there can be little doubt that it’s an issue at the state level, too.  For example, we’d have had no idea that George Nee — a big-time labor figure who sits on multiple government boards at the state level — used his Yahoo email account to lobby for a union-friend’s daughter to get a 38 Studios job if those emails hadn’t been part of the giant scandal of the company’s bankruptcy that lead to lawsuits and legal disclosures.

It’s increasingly clear that people in government don’t see themselves as our representatives, but as our aristocracy, with free license to seek out ways to make it impossible for us to operate without their permission.


A Reminder of the Simple Rules Reform Needed at the RI Legislature

With the removal of Representatives Raymond Hull, Raymond Phillips and Joseph Solomon from major committee assignments, apparently for voting against the truck-toll bill (though we cannot only be 99.9% sure of the reason, since the single individual with absolute control over all committee assignments under current House rules, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, has not said why), this is a good time to re-up the 3 rules reforms that are absolutely necessary to set the Rhode Island House of Representatives on the path of becoming a legitimate democratic body once again, with special emphasis on the first…

  • A prohibition on members being removed from a committee, without their consent, after they’ve received their initial committee assignment from the Speaker (this is so non-radical a proposal, the Rhode Island Senate already does it).
  • Creation of a clear procedure — that everybody understands exists — for rank-and-file members to use to recall bills “held for further study” and place them on committee agendas for up-or-down votes.
  • Tidying-up the discharge petition procedure for freeing bills from committee, removing the current rule preventing their use until 50 days into the session, and removing any ambiguity about the “only one petition to be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session” clause in the rules meaning one petition per bill, as opposed to one petition per year.

Bear in mind that leadership can only be partly blamed for the fact that committee reassignment can be used as punishment, as the total control that the House speaker has over committee assignments is not something that is etched in stone, but is a rule that the members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives themselves vote for, every session.

House and Senate rules however can be amended at any time, just like regular laws. And think of the interesting debate we might witness as part of a rules-reform bill — which Rhode Island representative do you think would make the dimmest-bulb statement of “We need to be controlled by the Speaker, because if you let committee members like me have actual freedom to decide on legislation, there will be chaos”.

One other note: It looks like Speaker Mattiello’s promise that “this House will be run by the Representatives themselves” has expired. Plan accordingly.


Short Sighted and Letting the Rules Slip

Drawing on his military experience in Kosovo, Kurt Schlichter draws a stark lesson for the progressives currently running America’s cultural institutions and the White House:

Today in America, a despised minority that is really no minority is the target of an establishment that considers this minority unworthy of respect, unworthy of rights, and unworthy of having a say in the direction of this country. It’s an establishment that has one law for itself, and another for its enemies. It’s an establishment that inflicts an ever-increasing series of petty humiliations on its opponents and considers this all hilarious.

That’s a recipe for disaster. You cannot expect to change the status quo for yourself and then expect those you victimize not to play by the new rules you have created. You cannot expect to be able to discard the rule of law in favor of the rule of force and have those you target not respond in kind.

Like Schlichter, I find myself wondering, “What is the end game, liberals?”  And (I suspect) like Schlichter, I can only conclude that there’s a great deal that the Left has left unconsidered.  One sees this in their technocratic schemes and in the reams of bad legislation that I’m already (ugh) in the middle of reading, right now.  Progressives seem to have a pervasive character trait that makes them believe they can design perfect systems, or at least self-correcting ones.  Indeed, the realization that this is a grievous conceptual error could be part of a definition of non-progressives.

They think they’ve got the minority groups on chains of identity politics and government benefits.  They think they’ve got the investment class and business moguls caught up in the promise of special access to great mountains of money and protectionist regulations.  They think they’ve got young adults swept up in emotion on purely social incentives.  They think they’ve got those with minority worldviews and behavioral inclinations paralyzed with fear that any other leadership would make them fugitives.  They think they’ve got their (relatively conservative) blue collar workers and emergency personnel on labor-union leashes.  From there, the rest of the process is just continuing to crank the Alinsky lever to reduce the space permitted to those who aren’t locked in.

One of two broad outcomes is possible.  The above construct turns into a doomsday machine and modern technology finally allows those inevitably inclined toward totalitarianism to make resistance impossible, and our planet becomes a moral wasteland beyond the imagination of any dystopian writer.  Or the breaking point is reached, whether with a final “enough” from the targets of the machine (as Schlichter foresees) or with the awakening of key cogs in the machine to the fact that they’d be better off with freedom than in lockstep.


Rule #1 for Government: Get Away with What You Can

Want another indication that government in the United States has become a massive exercise in fraud against the American people?

The U.S. national debt jumped $339 billion on Monday, the same day President Obama signed into law legislation suspending the debt ceiling.

That legislation allowed the government to borrow as much as it wants above the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling that had been in place.

The website that reports the exact tally of the debt said the U.S. government owed $18.153 trillion last Friday, and said that number surged to $18.492 on Monday.

No doubt, the folks with access to the numbers behind the scenes will offer complicated answers about how the debt didn’t actually continue to go up after it had hit the ceiling.  The term of art is that “extraordinary measures” were taken.  But the upshot is that the spending and the debt don’t stop.

Decision makers in government know the game is rigged — that there is no way the American people can leverage their representatives actually to stop the spending and borrowing — so they carry on until the politicians are able to figure out how to perpetrate the fraud.


Acknowledging RI’s Religious Freedom Law, Surreptitiously

Except on this Web site, hardly a word has been said or written about the fact that Rhode Island has a religious freedom law on the books very much like the one in Indiana that has proven so (quote-unquote) controversial.  That’s actually pretty surprising, inasmuch as the General Assembly promoted a press release with the title, “Sen. Nesselbush blasts Indiana over discrimination, urges businesses to relocate to Rhode Island.”  You’d think journalists would pick up on the fact that Nesselbush’s proclamation requires some caveats, if it isn’t simply an expression of ignorance.

Ian Donnis, of Rhode Island Public Radio was one exception, with his Friday blog-style post, but it’s a peculiar exercise in contrasts:

In contrast to the proposed religious freedom law that generated national headlines from Indiana this week, Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been a non-issue since it became law in 1993.

I had a few uncomfortable exchanges with Donnis on Twitter, because this item on his post goes on to present the substantive contrast of the laws as one of intent.  As I put it on Twitter, “What’s the point? If you want to protect religious freedom, you have to do it when it serves the progressive cause?”

In Donnis’s post, Steve Brown, of the far-left RI-ACLU, explains that “the purpose” of Rhode Island’s law was to protect religious minorities, typically those with dark skin.  (I interpreted some cynicism in that paraphrase.)  Given the probable points of view of Brown and like-minded activists, it’s difficult not to conclude, as I suggested this morning, that the Left considers laws to be conditional to its own purposes.

Rhode Island’s religious freedom act was meant to protect certified minorities in the name of popular causes.  That is “in contrast” to Indiana’s law, which activists attack because it protects white Christians against a popular cause.  (Otherwise, the story would be that Rhode Island’s “non-issue” suggests that left-wing activists are being deceptive and unreasonable about Indiana’s version.)

If you want an interesting contrast, by the way, look to Andrew McCarthy, who takes the view of a prosecutor worried that religious freedom can become a cover for terrorist organization.  McCarthy also worries that such laws as Rhode Island’s and Indiana’s err in giving unaccountable judges the power to determine what a “compelling public purpose” is and whether a particular policy is the “least burdensome” possibility for achieving it.

McCarthy’s procedural objection would be difficult to address, unless the idea would be for legislators to lay out very specific boundaries for freedom of religion, rather than allowing judges to consider actual circumstances for the individual cases that come before them.  Whatever the case, we should consider backing off a bit in allowing government to step into the interpersonal balances of our lives.

From my point of view in Rhode Island, where the rule of law seems more like a legal fiction than a reality, the branch that interprets the language is irrelevant if the only thing that matters, ultimately, is what the current progressive talking point might be.


Gee. Wonder Why Some Politicians Support Illegal Immigration and Lax Voting Rules

I had to chuckle at the Powerline headline, “How Many Elections Will Democrats Steal Next Week?“:

How extensive is voter-fraud, especially among non-citizens? Just bring up the question, or suggest we need to have voter-ID at the polls like every other advanced democracy, and the answer will be instantly supplied: You’re a racist. But as Dan McLaughlin points out over at The Federalist, Democrats seem to win a suspiciously high number of close elections, well beyond what a random statistical trial would suggest.

At the internal link, in that quotation, we learn that Democrats have an uncanny ability to win close races.  The Powerline article goes on:

The authors [of an academic study] think that non-citizen votes not only tipped the 2008 Minnesota senate race to Al Franken, but also tipped North Carolina’s presidential vote that year.

The reason I chuckled is that, even as busy and disconnected from some of the election news as I am, I’ve gotten the impression that the Providence mayoral race has picked up an aspect of competing vote fraud schemes.  When a place is as institutionally corrupt as Rhode Island, one gets to ask questions like:  Is it really fraud if stealing more votes is simply another part of the competition?

To be frank, overt fraud is merely one of the ways in which political insiders have arguably made our electoral system invalid in Rhode Island and (to various degrees) across the nation, given the Constitutional guarantee of a “republican form of government,” which above all requires the consent of the governed.  Having just filled out some campaign finance reports in order to put out some signs and print post cards supporting some of my Tiverton neighbors, it’s especially clear to me right now the many ways in which our government discourages participation and limits competition.

That’s the larger, more-fundamental challenge to our democracy, which makes the overt fraud seem like a subset — the last, insurmountable straw for people who might otherwise become politically engaged.


Coming up in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, May 22: Don’t Worry; It Says Right in the Law that These Bonds Aren’t Debts of the State!

1. S2196: Creates a 5-year pilot program for “social impact bonds”. (S Finance; Thu, May 22)

What’s a social impact bond? The bill says that…

According to this model, investors contract with a government agency to purchase social impact bonds, the proceeds from which are dispersed to a nonprofit organization service provider. The nonprofit organization is then required to deliver services to the target population. If the results of the services provided by the nonprofit organization meets pre-determined, defined financial and social outcomes, the government agency repays the bonds with financial returns to the private investors.

Note that this law doesn’t say that the bonds are to be repaid specifically with money that’s saved; it only says that if “pre-determined, defined financial and social outcomes” are achieved, investors will receive “financial returns”.

Later on, the bill says…

The debt obligation of the state shall be limited to the amount of public sector savings realized from the social impact bond program. If additional funds are required to secure the bonds, the department shall identify additional funding sources, such as those that can be provided by philanthropic organizations.

And, of course, there’s the “boilerplate”…

The provisions of any other law, rule, regulation or order to the contrary notwithstanding, the bonds, refunding bonds or other obligations of the department issued for the purposes set forth in this chapter shall be special and limited obligations of the department, payable from and secured by such funds and moneys as determined by the department and shall not be in any way a debt of liability of the state or of any political subdivision thereof, except as otherwise provided in this section, and shall not create or constitute any indebtedness, liability or obligation of the state or of any political subdivision thereof, either legal, moral or otherwise, and nothing contained in the provisions of this chapter shall be construed to authorize the department to incur any indebtedness on behalf of or in any way to obligate the state or any political subdivision thereof, and all bonds and refunding bonds issued by the department in connection therewith shall contain on the face thereof a statement to that effect.

Anyone who is favor of creating social impact bonds and in favor of paying the 38 studios bonds cannot honestly support this bill, until they get some clarification on the meaningfulness of the boilerplate, and perhaps amend the bill accordingly.

If a project funded with social impact bonds fails, will the outstanding debt be treated as state debt? That will strongly depend upon whether RI legislators (and other policymakers) intend to follow what the law says about what constitutes real state debt, or to look elsewhere when making this determination. Legislators who believe that pronouncements from of outside-of-government organizations can outweigh the plain text of the law in issuing and allocating debt and who support social impact bonds should insist upon amending this bill, 1) striking any language about SI bonds not being state debt and 2) requiring that SI bonds which create more than $50,000 in debt be submitted to the constitutionally-mandated referendum process, in order to be fully honest with the public.

And all advocates for social impact bonds have a responsibility to do their due diligence and tell the public whether they believe there are conditions under which these bonds could become state debts, but this time before they borrow the money.


America Once Was a Land of Laws and Freedom

Some mornings America’s new reality hits you the moment you turn on the computer. The point is driven home, deep within blue country, with parallels of national concerns at the state level, with the “bizarre” backroom maneuvering on pension reform (to quote House Minority Leader Brian Newberry), and at the local level, with Tiverton’s farewell to the rule of law.

But it’s the Obama Administration that wins the spotlight, today. There’s the new innovation in abusive use of the IRS that requires businesses to swear, under threat of perjury, that their layoffs have nothing to do with ObamaCare:

Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. How will the feds know what employers were thinking when hiring and firing? Simple. Firms will be required to certify to the IRS – under penalty of perjury – that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions.

At the very least, that will keep a lid on news stories giving the legislative affront to the Constitution the blame for continued economic suffering.

Speaking of news stories, here’s one that’s gotten surprisingly little play:

The U.S. under President Obama, who once promised to run the “most transparent” administration in the country’s history, fell from 32nd to 46th in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, a drop of 13 slots. The index, compiled by the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, analyzes 180 countries on criteria such as official abuse, media independence and infrastructure to determine how free journalists are to report.

It appears that we’ve got a long way to go to the freedom of Namibia, but at least we’re still edging out Haiti (barely).

What I can’t help but wonder is this: How can we trust the American news media to protect our freedoms when they aren’t making much noise about their own?