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A Red Flag for “Red Flag” Laws

Some version of this, as Paul Edward Parker reports it for the Providence Journal, is worth considering:

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association on Tuesday voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to pass a law to help keep guns out of the hands of people who demonstrate they are a risk to public safety. …

Under a so-called “red flag” law, the police could obtain a court order preventing people from having guns if they are a danger to themselves or others.

However, caution is critical, because this is dangerous territory for our civil rights.  Any such policy needs explicit guidelines for what counts as evidence and how the threshold is to be determined, preferably with some sort of validation outside of government (say a psychiatrist).  Otherwise, the government could confiscate weapons from people who simply dissent from the ruling worldview.

Indeed, one could imagine guns’ being confiscated because people in government know a person will be in a position that might make weaponry more problematic… like politically motivated pre-dawn raids, as in Michigan, or some sort of activists’ action against the person.  Imagine if police know somebody will be soon targeted like FCC commissioner Ajit Pai when the net neutrality issue was boiling; law enforcement might take away any weapons he might have to make sure nothing gets out of hand.  Or on the other side, if somebody is known to be an activist, the government  might take his or her weapons away.

It is insufficient for anybody currently in office to profess that such a thing will never happen; Rhode Islanders should demand clear standards and laws for any such legislation.  Look even to the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association’s statement.  An association for law-enforcement leaders should not contain language following the pattern of “we respect the Second Amendment, but…”

The Second Amendment isn’t in place as a sort of vague principle to be “respected.”  It’s a fundamental law of the land.  Government agents shouldn’t profess “respect” for it so much as pledge to “adhere” to it.

In this case, that means taking every conceivable step to ensure that a “red flag” policy cannot possibly infringe on our right to bear arms.


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


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.


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.


Not Really a Gotcha on Charitable Giving

Something in this headline from Politico raises a meta question:

Even putting aside the distinction between the president’s budget and the private donations of one of his secretaries, anybody who’s vaguely familiar with political philosophy would see that the implied gotcha of this headline is bogus.  Giving one’s own money to a charity is not at all inconsistent with reducing the compulsory charity of taxpayer funding to the same group.  (Yes, it’s deliberate that “compulsory charity” is any oxymoron.)

So here’s the meta question:  Do the journalists who publish this sort of story not foresee this obvious response, indicating that they are reporting on subject matter without understanding how about half of their potential audience will see it, or are they framing stories mainly as an opposition party would, with the goal of hurting an elected official with whom they disagree?


Income Inequity: the Fruit of RI’s Progressive Shift

It’s difficult not to think a lot of the talk about income inequality isn’t entirely sincere, but rather politically expedient.  Let’s stipulate that the amount of income inequality we have right now is bad; we still have to answer as a separate question what we should do about it.  Handing power to government officials is one option, but the case has to be made and is subject to reevaluation.  When people won’t make the case or reevaluate, the remaining conclusion is that they really just want the powerful government, with income inequality as a convenient excuse.

Thus, we get stories like “Studies: Income inequity in Providence third-highest in nation” in the Providence Journal, as the one-party (Democrat) rule in the state solidifies and becomes increasingly progressive:

In Providence, the poorest households earn $12,118 annually, compared with the wealthiest, which bring home $202,021 on average, according to the data. The ratio between incomes widened by 1.3 during the two-year period studied, starting at 15.4 and growing to 16.7 from 2014 to 2016, according to the data.

This is the fruit of low-growth, centrally planned progressive policy.  In order to bring up those on the lower end of the scale, we have to empower them to take money from the wealthy through voluntary transactions by offering services and competing.  High taxes create disincentive to produce things and earn money, occupational licensing and other regulations make it more difficult for people to work, and welfare programs that create government dependency reduce the incentive to do so.

This is a veritable recipe for income inequality.  However, it does create opportunity for the likes of Gina Raimondo, David Cicilline, Brett Smiley, and Aaron Regunberg, whose continued fortunes depend on convincing people that we need to funnel our society’s wealth through government.

And at the same time that government is pushing more people into government programs in Rhode Island, the very same government has been proving that it can’t be trusted to run its own programs.


The Possibility of Escape from Progressives’ Plans


Let’s Not Be Fooled Again by the Big-Government Pitch

It became a joke among those of us on the political right that every failure of the economy to surge during the Obama years happened “unexpectedly,” at least in the eyes of the mainstream media.  Now we have President Trump, and economic growth has improved, and here come headlines like, “Is the global economic expansion party over?,” which the Providence Journal gives to a Washington Post article by Heather Long.

Long lists a number of areas about which people should be justifiably concerned, but one can’t help but feel that the Post was disappointed that Trump wasn’t sufficiently rebuked by the global elite at Davos and is searching for something critical to say.

All that said, it’s hard to argue with this:

No one knows exactly what the next crisis will be. The best defense is to make the necessary tweaks to government programs and spending now, top business leaders and experts say. This is especially true for the United States as it goes up against China in the battle for global supremacy.

Of course, what the big-government types mean by that is to cut short the policies that are leading to expansion (decreased regulation, lower taxes, and generally more emphasis on the private sector than government) in favor of more reliance on government spending and power.  And of course, they hope that people won’t understand that this is the fault of government intervention and mismanagement, not neglect:

“You must have good infrastructure. Our infrastructure has fallen from first or second in the world to the teens. And our education has gone from No. 1 or 2 in the world to 27th or 28th,” [Blackstone chief executive Steve] Schwarzman said.

Conspicuously, Schwarzman’s Blackstone has been relevant to discussions about government-directed investment in projects around Rhode Island.  So, government undermines U.S. infrastructure and education by redirecting those investments to special interests, and now special interests are (we can infer) arguing that more money ought to flow into those two areas.

Let’s not be fooled again.


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.


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.