Regulatory Humility as an Illustration for Civic Principles in RI and IN

Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen believes in “regulatory humility,” and policy makers on the state level would be wise to hear her out. The concept is one that seems like common sense, but examples in government and politics more generally suggest that humility is less attractive in practice.

With reference to economic theories by the likes of Friedrich Hayek that are, she says, not exactly in dispute these days, Ohlhausen explained at a recent American Enterprise Institute event that regulators should be aware of their limits.  Especially in an era of technological lunges, regulators can’t know everything about the industries that they regulate–let alone other industries that innovation might bring into competition–while facing an unknowable future.

A skim of the legislation proposed in any state will likely show a less-than-humble approach to regulating (although some will be worse than others).

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

Policies So Good, You’re Not Allowed to Say “No”

Kevin Williamson’s “Utiopia’s Jailers” would be good assigned reading for a low-level political philosophy course:

The Left’s heart is still in East Berlin: If people want to leave your utopia and have the means to do so, then build a wall. If they climb over the wall — as millions of low-income parents with children in private schools (very commonly Catholic schools) do — then build a higher wall. …

It isn’t just education, of course. In much of Canada, private health insurance is effectively banned. The existence of private insurance is a very strong indicator that there are some people who are not entirely pleased with Canada’s single-payer system. (Monopolies rarely have happy customers.) So they opt out, at least in part, exercising the right of exit that is the most fundamental of civil rights. This is an affront to progressive values. Solution? Ban private health insurance. …

… try opting out of Social Security or Medicare and see how long it takes for Uncle Stupid to put you in prison as a tax evader. Those metaphorical prison walls are almost always political veneers for actual prison walls.

A more difficult question is why we let them do it.  In East Berlin, there was the little matter of an invading military force, but Americans are letting progressives rope them down like an incrementally compliant Gulliver.  Williamson’s examples give a good indication of the answer.

Acquiescence to the pitiful likes of President Obama and former Governor Chafee, let alone the legions of Whitehouses, Cicillines, Foxes, and so-ons, requires a long-term effort to miseducate the population, promise them things at others’ expense, and gain a patrician’s power over them.  As the wall goes up, the effort of dismantling it becomes greater and greater, making it easier and easier to succumb to the hope that the malicious builders will stop after one more row of bricks.

They won’t.

Governor Raimondo’s “Blank Check”

How could a proposed new statewide property tax that’s been given a nickname homage to a part-time-resident pop star not have a parody song?

Raimondo’s Outrageous Statewide Property Tax Actually an Attack on Property Rights

Raimondo’s “statewide property tax” isn’t a tax on property at all, but a tax on “privilege,” which means she thinks the government grants it. That’s an extremely dangerous principle to accept, even if it’s limited (at first) only to “the rich.”

UPDATED: Raimondo Official Contest: Boys Need Not Apply

Parents of young Rhode Island girls may have recently become aware of a contest hosted by Governor Gina Raimondo’s office, with a Friday deadline.  As the official press release from the governor’s office explains:

Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced today the “Governor for a Day” essay contest as a way to encourage young girls to become leaders in their communities. This Women’s History Month initiative is open to girls in 5th through 8th grade throughout the state. The winning essayist will be named “Governor for a Day”, and spend a day this spring meeting and speaking with other leaders across state government.

“Every day I talk with young girls and women – from my own daughter to successful Rhode Island businesswomen – and I am reminded how important it is to expose young girls to the significance of public service,” Governor Raimondo said. “Girls should know that with hard work and dedication, the opportunities available to them here in Rhode Island are endless. This essay contest is a chance to engage us all in that conversation.”

In addition to the press release’s going out through the governor’s office, the instructions call for essays to be sent to either an official government email address or the governor’s communication office.

This is a clear violation of the Rhode Island Constitution, Article I, Section 2, which states (in part):

No otherwise qualified person shall, solely by reason of race, gender or handicap be subject to discrimination by the state, its agents or any person or entity doing business with the state.

In directing this contest explicitly toward girls, the governor is obviously discriminating based on “gender.”  Of course, it’s unlikely that any young Rhode Island men would go to the lengths of filing lawsuits, but organizations that profess to support individual rights should be ashamed if they take a pass on this one.

Unfair to Have Equal Assistance?

What am I missing in Lynn Arditi’s front page story in the Sunday Providence Journal, about the Rhode Island College student who says she experienced an unfair hearing when she accused a fellow student of sexual assault?  Honestly, it reads like the reporter is waltzing around something that would present the whole story in a different light.

The core of the complaint is that the accused young man was “represented” by a lawyer with “a professional connection to the college” during a hearing on the allegation.  According to the accuser, “Having a lawyer in the room supporting the person I was accusing of this crime was a serious intimidation factor. It was terrifying… I didn’t have any legal representation and I was hurting.’’

That looks like it might justify the prominent airing that her complaint has gotten in the state’s major daily newspaper, but the relevant details poke out of the fabric of the story throughout.  Consider:

  • Right after that quotation, Arditi explains the “professional connection” that the lawyer had with the school, and she does so in a way that makes it seem as if representing the accused was part of his contract, but later on the story, we learn that “the accused student said he paid Turner $1,500 to represent him.”  So, one party in the hearing appears to have hired independent counsel, and the other was presumably free to do so.
  • Additionally, the role that the lawyer was permitted to fill was quite different than the typical legal hearing.  Normally, the client remains mostly silent while his or her lawyer does all of the talking, as part of the actual legal battle.  In this case, the lawyer “was allowed to ‘silently’ advise the accused student but not speak for him.”
  • If that’s the extent of the lawyer’s “representation,” then the accuser does not appear to have been without representation of her own.  “Leslie Schuster, director of RIC’s gender and women’s studies program [was] O’Donnell’s adviser at the conduct board hearing.”  That sounds comparable to what the lawyer was doing, and more importantly, the director of an entire program of study would seem to have a much more significant “professional relationship” with the college than a lawyer who has a contract with a campus non-profit funded through student fees.

Aggressive Policing and Racism

Ian Tuttle gets at a sense of a lot of us who are skeptical about findings of racial profiling and such, in this case talking about ticketing practices and a study of Ferguson, Missouri:

The complex question of the relationship between wealth and race comes into play here, but it might reasonably be said that this practice — of police and prosecutors and courts together — disproportionately affects black communities not because they are black, but because they are poor. They do not have the means to escape the justice apparatus, unlike the comparatively wealthy, who can pay a fine and be done with the matter — or hire an attorney, and inconvenience courts that prefer the ease of collecting fees to the challenge of arbitrating cases. To this effect, Balko quotes Thomas Harvey, an attorney for ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis–based legal-aid group: “These are people who make the same mistakes you or I do — speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, forgetting to get your car inspected on time. The difference is that they don’t have the money to pay the fines. . . . When you can’t pay the fines, you get fined for that, too. And when you can’t get to court, you get an arrest warrant.”

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, lately, how dumb identity politics make us.  I mean that: literally dumb.  Concentrating on race, gender, or whatever other categorization we wish to group people by is almost always a distraction from the underlying issues that are harming people or making them uncomfortable.  Look at the disaster of a president identity politics led us to elect; look at the unbelievably ridiculous candidate lining up to take his place on the same claim.

The difficulty is, frankly, that those underlying issues are mainly being caused by progressive policies, and progressives dominate education, news media, entertainment, and other cultural institutions.  Therefore, they prefer to distract from their flawed, harmful worldview and blame mysterious forces for the consequences.

And they prefer to make us dumb.  How else could they get away with an argument that is essentially, “The system is racist and irredeemably bigoted; we have to give more power to the system”?

Ominous “Neutrality” on the Internet

So-called “net neutrality” is an issue that I probably haven’t followed as closely as I should have.  Reading the Associated Press on the issue, it’s difficult to understand why it’s a contentious issue at all:

The 3-2 vote ushered in a new era of government oversight for an industry that has seen relatively little. It represents the biggest regulatory shake-up to telecommunications providers in almost two decades.

The new rules require that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone must act in the “public interest” and refrain from using “unjust or unreasonable” business practices. The goal is to prevent providers from striking deals with content providers like Google, Netflix or Twitter to move their data faster.

Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that this simple-sounding move comes with over 300 pages of regulations, or that nobody except government and technology insiders has seen the actual rules.  Nothing says well-intentioned government involvement in the Internet like a complete lack of transparency!

As John Fund points out, this has been a cause from the well-funded far left, assisted with heavy pushing by the Obama administration, some of whom have the explicit goal of making the Internet a more friendly environment for a particular point of view:

In essence, what McChesney and his followers want is an Unfree Press — a media world that promotes their values. “To cast things in neo-Marxist terms that they could appreciate, they want to take control of the information means of production,” says Adam Therier of the blog TechLiberation.

In a world in which the IRS is a political activist agency creating obstacles for the president’s opponents, it would be foolish not to be suspicious of non-transparent action by a bureaucratic agency effectively enacting legislation with a vote of five unaccountable people.

The Surveillance State Is Creepy

Whether Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was being fair (or how unfair he was being) to Mormons in his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, I don’t know.  The story did, however, reinforce a cultural aversion to being spied upon by authorities, and we could definitely use a bit more reinforcement of that suspicion.

Doyle’s claim is that early-Utah-settlement Mormons had a sort of secret police to enforce adherence to the faith, and its reach extended well beyond just Salt Lake City.  From the point of view of one convert to the faith (who converted rather than be left to die in the desert), the knowledge of this mysterious group was somewhat creepy, but livable… until he ran afoul of the Elders.  His adopted daughter wanted to marry a man outside of the faith, and the preferred options of the authorities were not tolerable.  Flight and murder followed.

And so it is throughout history.  As long as the civic structure allows people a certain degree of comfort, and as long as the rules that put one at risk of being a target are clear, many people will simply accept that those with power take liberties against their freedom.  The rules have a way of expanding, though, so it’s important for a free society to have a deep distrust of the mechanisms that can close in when they do.

When we learn that government agencies are developing extensive real-time road surveillance tools, it ought to worry us.  (License plate tracking technology is one of the regular bills hiding in the mass of the General Assembly’s legislation, as if awaiting a moment to slip into law.)  Sure, most of the uses of the system might seem unobjectionable, at first (although I find it abhorrent that the system was build for government property grabs):

The primary goal of the license-plate tracking program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.

Increasing revelations about false accusations of rape give a direct example of how the dragnet can thicken, but the concern is not necessarily direct.  We can be certain that, over time, the list of items for which the system is used will expand, making it less and less possible for us all blithely to assume that we will never run afoul of the authorities.

Take It from a Teacher: Unions are Activist Organizations Doing Harm

Hopefully this petition from schoolteachers, asking the Supreme Court to decide whether teachers can be forced either to join unions or to pay them “free rider” fees is an indication that truth is dawning on the profession.  Here’s one teacher making the case that I’ve mentioned around here before:

“I don’t have a problem with unions,” she says. “I understand a lot of people want to have that collective voice. That would be ideal where you have a choice; [you’re] not coerced, but you’re also not bullied or called a freeloader or some other name-calling because you choose not to pay for that.”

In decades past, particularly after the Great Depression, Friedrichs says the idea of labor unions made more sense. But with the increased political nature of policy discussions, unions have “morphed into something very different now.”

“They’re more a political activist,” Friedrichs says. “They’ve done more harm than good.”

Wherever there’s far-left progressive activism, the unions are right in the middle.  As Allie Bidwell’s U.S. News report suggests, there isn’t a clear line between their activism on a range of progressive issues and the advocacy that they’re able to present as focused on their members.

Nobody should be forced to belong to or fund an organization like that.

(via Instapundit)

Gary Morse: PolitiFact RI Wrong on Stenhouse Statement

The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development is very concerned about fairness, and its definition falls within Mike Stenhouse’s characterization of it.

Monday’s Community Outreach Forum on Policing, Part 1

My two biggest takeaways from Monday night’s forum on policing, at the South Providence Recreation Center, with Chiefs Hugh Clements (Providence Police Department) and Steven O’Donnell (Rhode Island State Police):

1. If good policing is built on strong communities, while the pathway to strong communities is cleared by good policing, there is a real chicken-or-egg issue with finding a solution.

2. A basic concept that our government and society seems to be losing needs a restoration, the idea that the top elected official of a city, town or state police force is the leader of the police force, not just ceremonially, but in a true operational sense.

RhodeMap Brings Eminent Domain One Step Closer

Analysis of the state law purporting to protect Rhode Islanders from eminent domain suggests that RhodeMap RI makes government takings significantly easier.

Learning from the Tragedy of Eric Garner

The focus on race issues distracts from the lessons that Americans should be learning from high-profile incidents involving the police.

Deadly Force and Grand Juries

At the beginning of this year, the Projo‘s Amanda Milkovits compiled a list of “police shootings causing injury or death”, including the formal legal resolutions for the officers involved, going back to 2001. Several of the fatal shootings listed appear to be slam-dunk justified, e.g…

May 2012: Pawtucket officers Emmanuel Mejia and Jess Venturini fatally shoot Jamie Coyle, whose gun jammed as he tried to shoot them. A grand jury says the officers were justified.

July 2008: Providence Officer John Abatiello fatally shoots Eddy Tiburcio, who was stabbing a woman with a bayonet. A grand jury clears Abatiello.

…but nevertheless went into the grand-jury process.

In these cases, it seems at least possible and maybe probable that, had the shooters not been police officers, cases might not have been brought to a grand jury at all, e.g. if a non-police officer saw a friend or family member being attacked with a bayonet, and he shot and killed the bayonet-wielding attacker, would a prosecutor be expected to seek an indictment of the non-police officer who had used deadly force?

An important question I believe this raises is, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, by either law or custom (and I realize the answer will vary by jurisdiction), do all police uses of force resulting in the death or serious injury go to a grand-jury for a review? It is important to sort this detail out, because there may be some counter-intuitive consequences to prosecutors applying different standards to police versus non-police cases — even if, on the surface, it appears that the police officers are held to tougher standards — that cause the grand-jury system to not work so well in the police cases.

What’s Next for the Social Equity Advisory Committee?

The future of the state Division of Planning’s RhodeMap RI scheme is suddenly in question.  The state Planning Council may not meet on December 11 to review the plan.  If it does, it may not approve the plan.  And legislators may step in before or after that event to pull the statutory legs out from under it.

If RhodeMap does become an official plan of the State of Rhode Island, nobody is really sure how it will operate, or even what mechanisms the state will put in place to continue advancing it.  One subsidiary question is what the state Division of Planning will do with the Social Equity Advisory Council (SEAC), which was tasked with defining and pushing the “diversity” piece of the plan.

According to the state’s three-year planning plan (yes, these weeds are very deep), the SEAC is generally intended to continue on in one form or another.  The descriptive part of section V.B. of the three-year plan ends as follows:

The intent of this process is not only to guarantee that the RPSD [Regional Plan for Sustainable Development] accurately reflects the vision and needs of the state’s underserved and underrepresented populations, but also to produce relationships that will become the building blocks necessary for completing and implementing the RPSD. At the conclusion of the grant period, the SEAC will propose next steps for continuing their work, as it is imperative that these community leaders are committed not only to the completion of the RPSD but also to the successful implementation of the identified strategies.

A bullet point under “Products/Outcomes” calls for:

A guidance document for the State Planning Council on improving procedural and distributional equity in planning activities, including potential future engagement of SEAC.

Translated, this means that State Planning should soon have a document explaining how the SEAC can continue helping the council find ways to redistribute wealth in Rhode Island.

Tori Richards: Is Orwell’s 1984 Coming to Rhode Island?

RhodeMap RI puts the Ocean State on a path to lost control and lost freedoms, but some legislators are moving to stop it.

Having It Both Ways with Government “Plans”

A key question in the RhodeMap RI debate is whether The Plan is merely advisory or carries the force of law. The answer is both: It is implemented with only the civic protections necessary for “advice,” but the burden is shifted to citizens to prove that they don’t have to follow it.

Gary Morse: Affordable Housing on Steroids?

RhodeMap RI gives social equity advocates easy access to federal mandates in order to thwart local control without regard to property values or residents’ concerns.

The Racism in Central RhodeMap Planning

While RhodeMap RI backers accuse their opposition of racism, they use tactics and advance plans that are deeply racist.

Gary Morse: RhodeMap RI Is a Road Map to Disaster

Evidence of the consequences of adopting the RhodeMap RI plan (spurred by the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) is easy to find, and Rhode Islanders should make up for Governor Chafee’s failure to look.

Rep. Lally’s Opposition to a Constitutional Convention

My clock for blogging has run out, already, today, but an opinion essay that Representative Donald Lally (D, Narragansett, South Kingstown) sent out through the legislative press office merits a quick response.

The essay, which does not appear to be online, yet, expresses concern about the cost of a Constitutional Convention and about the possibility that “special interests… could hijack the convention and call for changes to the Rhode Island Constitution that actually weaken the rights of the citizens of our state.”  Moreover, he says, “supporters of a Constitutional Convention… tend to also be detractors of the General Assembly.”

While considering Lally’s comments, Rhode Islanders (especially voters in Rep. Lally’s district) should note three things.

First: Lally’s Freedom Index score, from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, was -56.6 for 2014, ranking him 73rd in the whole General Assembly.  According to the interactive Freedom Index Live, Lally’s three-year average score is -60.1, which is handily the worst of any legislator from either town that he represents, including progressive stalwart Teresa Tanzi.

Second: A look at Rep. Lally’s political donors shows he’s got no problem taking money from “special interests.” Here are his top 10 donors since 2002:

  • NRA Political Victory Fund PAC: $3,850
  • RI State Association of Firefighters: $2,700
  • NEARI PAC (National Education Association of RI): $2,450
  • RI Laborer’s Political League: $2,400
  • ATU Cope Special Holding Account (Amalgamated Transit Union): $2,300
  • Brian Goldman (of Goldman Law Offices Attorney/Lobbyist): $2,250
  • NECSA (New England Convenience Store Association): $1,650
  • Realtors PAC of RI: $1,650
  • RI Dental PAC: $1,600
  • Fund for Democratic Priorities: $1,575

It’s enough to make one wonder if Lally’s largest concern is actually that his contributors will have another option for their political donations for a couple of years.

Third: According to the Secretary of State’s candidate list for the General Assembly, Rep. Lally had no competition in his primary and has no competition in the general election in a couple of weeks.

In short, Rhode Islanders who aren’t happy with the laws that Rep. Lally has helped to put in place to weaken their rights and who fear the influence that his special-interest donors have over him have no other option than a Constitutional Convention.

Rhode Island’s Ghoulish Government

An article by Lynn Arditi in today’s Providence Journal, Report: Too many teens in state care,” looks likely to be one of those dry, bureaucratic-process-related matters that many readers probably skip over.  That would be a mistake:

In her testimony, Field described a system where overloaded caseworkers who don’t have the time or resources to help families are increasingly removing teenagers from their homes and sending them to live in group homes. And group homes are paid only by the numbers of beds filled, so “you’ve got incentives for providers to keep kids to keep those beds filled,” [Tracey Field, director of the child welfare strategy group at the Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation in Baltimore] said.

To summarize in one sentence what appears to be going on:  The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program, in part because its priorities have led the state government not to adequately fund a responsibility that it arrogated to itself.

That’s a long sentence, and the second half of it goes into the process stuff on which politicians like to focus because they can muddy the water.  It’s the first part of the sentence, though, that’s important: “The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program.”

You don’t get much more ghoulish than that, and you don’t get a much better representation of the progressive style of governance.

Why Rhode Islanders Have No Hope, Judicial Branch

I frequently state my opinion that there’s basically no rule of law in Rhode Island.  An article in today’s Providence Journal about a lawsuit concerning an “affordable housing” development illustrates why.

The basic point is that citizen groups almost never win.  Either the government agency appeals to the department under which it works, and that department rules in its favor (as with a school committee appealing to the Dept. of Education) or some quasi-judicial agency, like the Ethics Commission, waves the language of the law away, or the courts carry the water.  The foreclosure of that route to reform and civic engagement leads people who might otherwise become more politically active, perhaps even running for office, to give up totally, sometimes directing their efforts to an exit strategy from the state.

I didn’t realize (but probably could have guessed) that Maya Angelou, the poet, has precedential weight in Rhode Island courts:

In his written decision, filed Wednesday, Procaccini opened with a quote from the late Maya Angelou: “ ‘The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.’ As this Court considers the case before it, it keeps Maya Angelou’s wise words in mind.”

Whatever the law says, the ruling class of Rhode Island will find it to say whatever they feel is right.  There’s no way citizens can work to craft language that will actually do what they want it to.

That’s not the rule of law.  It’s an aristocracy.

Four Thoughts on the Anti-ConCon Commercial

The union-driven group that’s spending a bunch of money to oppose the mere possibility of a constitutional convention in Rhode Island is out with this slick commercial:

Four thoughts come to mind:

  1. The possibility that Rhode Islanders will insist on a route to changing the status quo that goes around the General Assembly must really, really scare our state’s special interests.
  2. What, them fearmonger?
  3. Rhode Islanders shouldn’t miss the fact that the first people out with a slick commercial concerning the constitutional convention are the special interests warning that other special interests will spend money to influence their votes.
  4. If you think about it, the messaging is really bizarre.  They want voters to reject the possibility of a constitutional convention, but they ignore that voters will ultimately have to approve any changes to the state constitution.  Do they worry that people gullible enough to believe their anti-concon commercials will be gullible enough to vote against their own beliefs in the future based on other commercials?

Reading into Militarization of the Police

Stephen Beale had an interesting article on GoLocalProv, last week, on the trend of local police militarization that quoted me.  Here is the complete comment that I sent him:

Military equipment — from machine guns to armored trucks — is designed for use against an enemy, mainly in hostile terrain. That’s a very different mission from serving and protecting a civilian population at home.

We have to balance community security and officer safety with individual liberty.  However, militarization of police is implicitly a constraint on our freedom.  My larger concern is that big government and militarized police go hand in hand.

For isolated incidents in which a significant military-type force is needed, domestically, actual military units can be called in to assist local law enforcement.  If police departments find they need this sort of firepower to enforce the law, generally, we have to start wondering why there’s so much law to enforce.

Representative Democracy, Left and Right

A view of “representative democracy” that casts representation as a mild form of dictatorship will destroy a society, whether we’re talking about Obama or an environmental protest in Somerset.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 42 (Providence Mayoral Primary and Church/State)

Justin and Bob Plain argue over the Democrat primary for Providence mayor and its implications for the separation of church and state.

GOP Gubernatorial Primary: A Final Word on Ken Block’s Vote for Obama

When choosing a President based on the very legitimate criteria of his influence over the Supreme Court, had Ken Block considered what it might mean for basic issues of religious freedom, the right to bear arms, and economic rights?

Republicans want a leader who is going to do more than work around the strange ideas that liberals have, after they’ve been implemented in government. His good work on the master lever notwithstanding, the votes for Obama are a strong suggestion that Ken Block isn’t that type of leader.

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