Things We Read Today (32), Wednesday


Thanks to Taft-Carter for the Example

As a commentator on the Rhode Island political scene, I’m thrilled to have Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter hearing the unions’ lawsuit against pension reform.  The reason, admittedly, is a bit superficial:  I’m bored with using Stephen Iannazzi as the poster child of the Rhode Island way of operating government.

Just in time, here comes the good judge:

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter heard arguments Monday on whether she should immediately refrain from hearing matters in the high-stakes lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s sweeping pension overhaul until the state Supreme Court rules on her standing.

Earlier this month the state asked the high court to bar Taft-Carter from the case, questioning her impartially since her mother collects a state death benefit from her late husband and her son is a state trooper who is potentially in line for a public pension.

In court Monday, John Tarantino, a lawyer for the state, also noted that The Sun-day Journal reported Taft-Carter has an uncle who receives a state pension. “It is another concern,” he said.

Of course, Taft-Carter herself is on track to receive a state pension, which makes the judicial system seem a comic tragedy on its own.  In a broader way, though, the layers of connection make one wonder just how incestuous our public-payroll aristocracy actually is.  On the other hand, perhaps the statistic that 1 in 6 Rhode Islanders works for government is softened if they’re all in the same handful of families.

At a conference with my think-tank peers from other states, though, it was nice to have such an easy anecdote to evoke that are-you-kidding-me facial expression.

 More Evidence of Rhode Island’s Pre-Democratic Style of Governance

So we’ve got the insider ruling class permeating the offices and jobs of state government.  What sort of results does that culture achieve?  (“Besides the nation’s worst economy?” I hear some asking.)

Soon-to-be-former Chair of the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education Lorne Adrain gives some indication, in the opinion that he expresses to RIPR education reporter Elisabeth Harrison concerning the General Assembly’s out-of-nowhere consolidation of Adrain’s board with the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education:

I think the larger question that we all ought to be asking is how is an issue like this dealt with in our governance structure as a state? The fact that three or four legislators in a room can at the last moment as a budget amendment restructure governance of institutions that collectively have a 3 1/2 billion dollar budget, impact 80,000 students, and 10,000 staff and faculty and so on is a little bit disconcerting.  It seems to me that that’s the way decision making is done in societies before they emerge as democracies.

What’s particularly interesting in Adrain’s analysis is his apparent vision that democracy is a natural evolutionary stage for human societies rather than (as the substance of his complaint would suggest) a rare and easily corroded civic gem that must be constantly shined lest it lose its luster.  After all, Adrain’s boss, Governor Chafee, has emulated the president for whom he campaigned in his penchant for executive orders (as with the state’s ObamaCare healthcare exchange).  Even Adrain’s own board facilitated such a maneuver when it granted illegal immigrants in-state tuition to Rhode Island universities.

That topic comes up in Harrison’s interview, but neither she nor Adrain remarks on the chairman’s split impression of small groups’ making controversial decisions.

To the progressive planner, the conclusion inevitably comes that democracy is a drag on innovation and that the planners know best how to innovate. Lorne just got caught up in the lasso.

And Then There’s Regulation

I move to the national context, for this section, but the lessons apply at least as well to Rhode Island.

George Will shines a spotlight on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a bureaucratic creation of the Dodd-Frank legislation that is uniquely disconnected from the checks and balances of any of the branches of government.  As Will sees it, the CFPB is unique, but hardly an aberration:

Like the Independent Payment Advisory Board, Obamacare’s health-care rationing panel, the CFPB embodies progressivism’s authoritarianism — removing much policymaking from elected representatives and entrusting it to unaccountable “experts” exercising an unfettered discretion incompatible with the rule of law. Similarly, when Obama allows states to waive work requirements that the 1996 welfare reform law explicitly made non-waivable, he evades the Constitution’s provision conferring a conditional presidential veto power — ignoring the law becomes preferable to a veto Congress can override. And the waivers make a mockery of the Constitution enjoining the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Add to this the shady behavior of more typical bureaucratic bodies, like the Environmental Projection Agency (EPA), which appears to have set up hidden email addresses under aliases in order to conduct official business that wouldn’t be traceable by the public.

As Glenn Reynolds points out, all of this unaccountable privacy within government contrasts jarringly with re-emergent efforts to increase government agencies’ access to the personal email of citizens.

Ultimately, It’s on the People

That none of the above seems to cause much outrage among the mainstream-news-digesting segment of the American public gives some of us the sense of surreality that Roger Kimball describes so stylistically between efforts to return his life to normal, post-Sandy:

As I look around at what is happening in the formerly United States of America, I feel the chill wind of disorientation. Are we not, in our fiscal incontinence and pullulating political correctness, piling up our own funeral pyre?  Have not our politicians surrendered to a horrible venality as they struggle above all to maintain the reins of power, even to the point of allowing political calculation to trump their duty to save the lives of those diplomats who were murdered in Benghazi? Will the festering swamp of mendacity that surrounds that event ever be drained? The Obama administration has been on overdrive since September 11 to spin the event, lying, covering up, triangulating, and otherwise endeavoring to distract the public’s attention from this extraordinary attack on sovereign U.S. territory — our consulate in Benghazi — and the brutal murder of an American ambassador and three aides. What does it all mean?  And what do the revelations about David Petraeus’s amorous adventures and pseudo-revelations about General Allen portend? Does anyone believe that it was a coincidence that they surfaced when they did?

Kimball quotes the famous line that “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”  With so much front-page real estate in today’s Providence Journal given over to holiday travel plans and Christmas lights on the Big Blue Bug, how can anybody do otherwise than worry?