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A Word on Maintaining Calm (And Rights) in the Face of Tragedy

Horrible events like the school shooting in Florida yesterday are painful to contemplate, but contemplate them we must.  However, “contemplation” entails attention to details and balancing of considerations.  Unfortunately, emotions run high when it comes to safety on school grounds, so facts become easy to discard.  Also unfortunately, activists rev up the outrage before facts are even known.

From what we know — and it’s still not much — authorities had multiple signals that the shooter merited scrutiny.  The Daily Mail reports that, when a student, he wasn’t permitted to carry a backpack.  The New York Daily News reports that the shooter was flagged to the FBI months ago for a school-shooting comment on YouTube.  His Instagram account was a chilling, easy-to-find signal.

Of course, the warning about waiting for more information covers all directions in which this investigation may go, and it’s possibly understandable that a few reports to different agencies wouldn’t combine to bring real attention to a potential threat.  Even if there is no fault to assign on this count, though, it remains true that authorities did not protect the public from somebody whom others had identified as dangerous.  It is not obvious, therefore, that the appropriate response to the government’s inability to protect people is to further curtail Americans’ ability to protect themselves.

So let’s tone down the rhetoric and try to avoid making emotional decisions that remove other people’s rights and might have unintended consequences.  Consider, for example, that one of the supposed 18 school shootings that are being hyped actually involved a student’s pulling the trigger of a police officer’s gun while it was still in the holster, and others are also a stretch to put on the list.


Our Natural Beauty, From the Moment of Conception

After a trip to the March for Life as a chaperone for a high school trip, I felt inspired to indulge in some poetic prose for an op-ed in last week’s Rhode Island Catholic:

The iconography around the building is endlessly meaningful, and visitors could spend hours trying to take it all in and a lifetime contemplating it. The craftsmanship not only of the artists whose work is on display, but also of the artisans who constructed their setting is impressive. In its sheer beauty, though, the marble — with the polished stone swirling around itself in a broad palette of colors — is what took my breath away.

A process of chemistry and tremendous force over centuries fashioned the material, awaiting human hands to collect and polish it, fashioning it into columns, railings, or just tiles and slabs to finish the floors and walls. In some places, the natural designs are suggestive of images. Between a confessional and a mural of the calling of St. Matthew, a dark shape in one slab gives the impression of a robed figure in a cavern or a wooded area. The imagination of a viewer awaiting his or her turn behind the curtain must provide the details.

The real story of natural materials, in other words, is essentially the subject matter of religion.


Their Constitution Is Their Ideology

Pro-abortion extremists in the General Assembly are back with their push to cut all traces of Rhode Island law, most of which is currently superseded by federal law, that in any way limits access to abortions or affirms the biological fact that unborn children are, in fact, human beings.  One provision would eliminate the statute against the barbaric procedure of partial-birth abortion, wherein the abortionist brings the baby almost fully into the air and then kills him or her before final delivery.  (The method of killing can involve crushing the baby’s skull and sucking his or her brains out.)

But rather than inflame passions with accurate descriptions of abortion, I’ll focus, here, on a peculiar rhetorical trick of the activists:

“We have anti-choice leaders in both chambers of Congress, and a Supreme Court whose balance could help the other two branches destroy the protections provided by Roe v. Wade. Unless we erase these unconstitutional laws, it is feasible that the women of Rhode Island could be knocked back a half-century to the days of secret, dangerous back-room abortions,″ [Providence progressive Democrat Representative Edith] Ajello said last week after introducing the bill.

“Our state has lacked the political will to repeal these unconstitutional laws, and that inaction is now putting the health and rights of Rhode Island women at genuine risk,″ added the lead Senate sponsor, [Providence progressive Democrat Senator] Gayle Goldin, in a news release last week. “Women deserve better from the leaders of our state.”

Clearly “unconstitutional” is a very important talking point to these activists.  The peculiarity is that if the Supreme Court were to reverse the precedent of prior activist courts, these state laws would no longer be unconstitutional.  That is, in addition to their belief that one human being has the authority arbitrarily to declare whether another human being has any rights at all, they also hold that constitutionality is ultimately defined by conformance with their own ideology, rather than agreed-upon words and legal processes.


Trump and the Leading Edge of Conservative Policy

Readers who aren’t steeped in (or employed by) the conservative think tank world may not have picked up something very interesting about President Trump’s State of the Union address:  He mentioned a number of policies that have been catching on among conservative policy intellectuals who are, in some ways, reformulating the old-school, hard-line, bootstrap principle as well as the more-recent libertarianism that pressured social conservatives to keep their mouths shut in the name of broader appeal.

Many of us have been making the case that knocking out government supports in an era of eroded social foundations isn’t politically feasible or humane and that a full political philosophy requires some sort of plan for disadvantaged people.  In the Washington Examiner, Jared Meyer highlights one example:

In his 2018 State of the Union address, President Trump said that “we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

This sentiment directly follows what Trump promised during his inaugural address, that “we will get our people off of welfare and back to work.” People coming out of incarceration face two distinct paths—they can either find a job, or they will fall into government dependency. Beyond being the main predictor of whether someone is living in poverty, not having a job is the clearest indicator of how likely someone is to re-offend.

This particular issue is certainly in line with libertarian views on shrinking government, but it illustrates the changed perspective.  The first spotlight doesn’t go on the principle of freedom, but on the obstacles that actual people are facing.

Very often, helping people is a matter of reining in the excesses of government, and sometimes that requires rethinking old biases, like that which was “tough on crime.”  It makes for an interesting balancing act, and that goes to show that the really interesting policy discussions are all on the right, as is the future of the country unless progressives derail our actual progress.


Enough with the Talk, Put Some Solutions on the Table


Civil War and the Pubescence

By all means, read the widely circulated post to which he links, but also give some thought to how John Hinderaker of PowerLine frames the discussion:

Are the Democrats Fighting a Civil War?

That is the provocative hypothesis put forward by Danial Greenfield at Sultan Knish. On its face it sounds hyperbolic, but Greenfield makes a rather sober case. You should read it all, but this will give you some of the flavor:

How do civil wars happen?

Two or more sides disagree on who runs the country. And they can’t settle the question through elections because they don’t even agree that elections are how you decide who’s in charge.

The key sentiment is precisely that behind the self-proclaimed Resistance (or the me-proclaimed Pubescence):  When the other side wins, it is illegitimate and its exercises of power must be resisted By Any Means Necessary.  Normalizing the other side, even to the extent of acknowledging its legitimate electoral victories, is complicity in evil.  When people who believe what the other side believes, it is “hate speech,” not free speech.

This is very, very dangerous territory.  If the people who elected Donald Trump as their means of disrupting what they see as a corruption of democracy designed to lock them out and eliminate their rights find even that successful use of the democratic process blocked, they aren’t going to go away; they’re going to shift their focus away from the means of deciding differences that can make democracies stable.


The Unhealthy Restrictions of Being the 3rd Worst State for Zoning

When it comes to national rankings, those that show Rhode Island badly on the wrong side abound.  Ted Nesi highlights another one, on WPRI:

Rhode Island has some of the most restrictive regulations for land development in the country, which is likely raising the cost of housing in the state, according to a recent study.

The study by Vanessa Brown Calder, a researcher at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute think tank, ranked Rhode Island as the 3rd most restrictive state for zoning regulation and the 8th most restrictive for land-use regulation.

“These constraints on land development within cities and suburbs aim to achieve various safety, environmental, and aesthetic goals,” Calder wrote. “But the regulations have also tended to reduce the supply of housing, including multifamily and low-income housing. With reduced supply, many U.S. cities suffer from housing affordability problems.”

Progressives tend to look at housing affordability as a welfare issue, because they generally like the idea that government can tell people what they can, can’t, and must do with their property.  The solution, for them, is to use government’s power to take people’s money in order to transfer it to those whom them zoning regulations lock out of housing.  Naturally, this has the advantage of requiring everybody to go to government for benefits and permissions, as well as creating that money-power funnel I mentioned yesterday.

But immobilizing people in this way is not healthy, whether by making it difficult for them to find new homes or layering government forms on them whenever they do move.  Beyond simply the principle of freedom is its practical value.  Allowing people to move from place to place and adapt their homes (whether by price or by function) creates opportunities for them that benefit society as a whole, especially when it comes to the economy.


RI Senate PawSox Memo Shows the Constitutional Scam

Read this part of Ted Nesi’s summary of a legal opinion from the Rhode Island Senate on the possibility of a public referendum on the PawSox and then let it sink in:

In a memo to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio dated Tuesday and obtained by Eyewitness News, Ruggerio’s chief legal counsel Richard Sahagian cited case law dating back to 1937 that he said reinforces a provision in the state constitution saying only the General Assembly has “the power to make and declare laws.”

“As in Rhode Island, courts across the country have also found that the power to make and declare laws is vested exclusively in the legislative body subject to those powers explicitly reserved to the people in each state’s constitution,” Sahagian wrote.

“The Rhode Island Constitution explicitly enumerates which measures must go on the ballot for voter approval. This is not one of those instances,” he continued. “As a result of the above analysis, the legislature cannot delegate this power by referring the matter to the voters for their approval.”

Since we’re talking about the Rhode Island Constitution, here’s Section 16 of Article VI, which is the article granting the General Assembly any power at all:

The general assembly shall have no powers, without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in time of war, or in case of insurrection or invasion; nor shall it in any case, without such consent, pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others. This section shall not beconstrued to refer to any money that may be deposited with the state by the government of the United States

The General Assembly gets around this limitation of its power by creating so-called quasi-public agencies that technically are separate legal entities and then promising that they’ll pay the debt of these agencies year to year, which technically doesn’t “pledge the full faith and credit” of the state.  The end result is that investors get a higher rate of return because there’s technically a risk that the state won’t pay, even as the government has every incentive to treat the debt as fully binding because otherwise the scam would fall apart because investors won’t believe the winks and nods that the politicians are giving.

But think about how brazen the Senate’s legal opinion is, here.  The politicians are trying to put together a deal that creates one of these phony “moral obligations” to cover debt for a building project (that helps the Senate President’s labor union), even though the Constitution requires voter approval, and the legislators lawyers (whose salaries the people pay) are claiming that the people can’t have a say because our Constitution gives the legislature power to make law.

How about this:  Give the people a vote to express their opinion, and then lawmakers will follow that vote, even if technically they aren’t bound by it. Better yet, do nothing until Rhode Islanders wise up and vote you all out of office.


Linking Poverty and Licensing in a Comprehensive Philosophy

An editorial in the Orange County Register makes the important connection between poverty, welfare, and occupational licensing:

Following the critical passage of tax reform, congressional Republicans and President Trump might now turn their attention to reforming at least some of the nation’s vast, too often ineffective social safety net. …

Ultimately, of course, the best way to combat poverty is to ensure America’s economy continues to grow and jobs remain accessible to as many Americans as possible. Tax reform and Trump’s halt on excessive new regulations are important steps toward that. But the White House and Congress shouldn’t be content with that. Other areas are ripe for improvement as well, like occupational licensing reform to remove artificial barriers to work.

For a while, it seems, the political right lost sight of the need for competing visions.  People’s political views tend to result from some sort of balance between freedom and security (not only for themselves, but as organizing principles for the benefit of others).  It isn’t sufficient, therefore, to combat the statist vision of tasking government with everybody’s well-being and simply (simplistically) making it so with simply cutting taxes and taking all limits off of the wealthy.

Of course, very few people really hold that second view, but the actual philosophy that it caricatures has to be better articulated.  Part of removing limits, for one, means removing them from the poor and working class, as well, which should place a market-driven pressure on the wealthy that is greater than the supposed pressure that government manages.  (I’m always mystified that the same people who warn that the rich control government think they can use government to limit the rich.)

Similarly, the case has to be made that the outcomes that the pro-license advocates claim to be protecting us against aren’t really a danger or don’t justify the heavy hand pushing down on individuals’ opportunity and our economic health.


The Urge to Ban Books