HEADLINES

Running Woonsocket from the State House

If there were an award for a Rhode Island political item beyond what anybody would make up, the first item in today’s Providence Journal Political Scene might take it.

Former state representative (and Democrat) Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, now mayor of Woonsocket, just fired former state representative (and Democrat) Jon Brien, who had been serving as the city’s part-time prosecuting attorney.  Delivering the news to Brien was current state representative (and Democrat) Michael Marcello, who is the city’s solicitor.  Filling the prosecutor job on an interim basis will be Thomas DeSimone, brother of current representative (and Democrat majority leader) John DeSimone.

Here’s the kicker.  Asked how she settled on Mr. DeSimone as her guy, Baldelli-Hunt:

… she said she called the House speaker’s office and asked for a recommendation when she found herself on a Friday with no one to go to court for the city the following Monday, Aug. 18.

Ultimately, all that can really be said about this farce is that the people of Rhode Island voted for it.

Rhode Islander into the Heart of Ebola Country

Tim Flanigan, an infectious disease specialist from Tiverton, has headed off to Liberia to fight Ebola, and he has a few simple requests.

RI’s Bad Decisions and Burning Money Instead of Tobacco

My op-ed in today’s Providence Journal places the match of Rhode Island’s experience of the tobacco settlement money (a one-time-fix turned bad debt) on the pile of bad decisions that the state government has made in the past decade or so:

According to a review by ProPublica, Rhode Island has just refinanced some of the resulting debt, with the expectation that “the deal would shave $700 million off a $2.8 billion tab due on the bonds in 2052.” In that regard, it’s a bit like the state’s pension reform, which was marketed as salvation but merely shaved about $3 billion from $9 billion of unfunded liability.

The people who operate Rhode Island’s government are racking up quite a list of these liabilities.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 41 (Primaries and Unions)

Justin and Bob Plain pick favorites in some primaries and argue about pensions and government labor unions.

Elorza: Your Rights End at My Understanding of Reality

Mayoral Candidate and former Rhode Island judge Jorge Elorza illustrates the progressive faith (and its weakness) in his argument that public schools can and should teach the non-existence of God.

There’s Bad Driving in RI, but Head North for the Worst


Providence ranks 196 out of 200 in Allstate’s 2014 “Best Drivers Report”, ranked by average years between accidents. Apparently it’ a regional thing, since 3 of the 4 cities below Providence are in Massachusetts (with Washington D.C. as the 4th)…

195. Baltimore, MD; 5.4 yrs
196. Providence, RI; 5.4 yrs
197. Springfield, MA; 5.4 yrs
198. Washington, DC; 5.1 yrs
199. Boston, MA; 4.4 yrs
200. Worcester, MA; 4.3 yrs

Contra Code of Ethics, Sen. Conley Bills State for $47,030 in 2013

State Senator William Conley (D, East Providence, Pawtucket) has served as legal counsel for the state Ethics Commission, but records show that he may have violated the Code of Ethics when he took additional work from the state after having been elected to office.

A Providence Mayoral Candidate Believes He Can Prove the “Theist God” Doesn’t Exist

How about a candidate for Providence Mayor who claims he can prove that it is “overwhelmingly unlikely that the theist God exists”? That candidate is…

Compliant News Media Fosters Corruption

It’s almost difficult to remember what it was like, in that long era before the veil dropped during the second term of President George W. Bush, back when we actually had to debate whether the mainstream news media was biased.  It’s almost as if the MSM decided that the charade wasn’t worth maintaining back when that picture of Bush walking with a copy of Bernie Goldberg’s book, Bias, made the rounds.

After the vitriol and lies intended to destroy the Bush presidency and the cult-like madness and cover-ups to promote the Obama presidency, can there be any real doubt that, on the whole, mainstream journalists are, as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit frequently states, Democrat operatives with bylines?

Seth Mandel suggests that media bias is central to the perhaps-destined-to-be-successful strategy of the IRS to cover up its unconstitutional, tyrannical targeting of conservative activists to help ensure the reelection of Obama:

If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

It’s a direct challenge to the media, in other words.

It’s not a direct challenge.  It’s an echo, a commiseration, evidence of solidarity.  After all, if the news media were willing to throw away any plausible ability to defend its objectivity in order to bring about the era of hopenchange, why should the IRS (or the rest of the federal bureaucracy) be any different?

It may be that the only two opportunities for the United States to avoid dissolution and/or nation-rending violence are for the American people finally to stop paying attention to News Media Incorporated or for those professional journalists and editors to take it as a learning experience that they were played for saps to promote a thuggish regime that embodies everything the standard liberal narrative warned against beneath a very thin veneer of the platitudes that liberals like to believe they believe in.

Clay Pell and the Coast Guard Reserves

Is it OK to have a Governor that needs to be away from his duties to fulfill his required US Coast Guard Reservist obligations?

Gist: Let Another Full Grade Go Through High School Without System Accountability

RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has decided it’s reasonable to hold off on standardized testing as a graduation requirement until the next decade, and Rhode Islanders should expect it to be delayed again, and again.

The Problem for Public School Buildings…

is that they don’t have a union:

Rhode Island’s 276 public schools are aging rapidly, and, at the current rate, it would cost $1.8 billion to bring them up to good condition, according to a state study.

The General Assembly in July extended a three-year moratorium on new construction until May 2015, to give leaders time to devise a way of paying for major school renovations. But superintendents say that every year the moratorium is in place, crucial maintenance and repairs go undone, driving up the cost and making bond referendums less palatable to voters.

In any given organization, the people who implement the budget will look at the revenue that they expect to bring in versus the needs of the organization (the expenses).  That includes long-term planning, estimating the life of buildings and planning for improvements.

When it comes to government schools, though, the law requires that some money be siphoned off in order to pay a labor union to be constantly advocating to increase the cost of personnel.  Because they are public-sector unions, their advocacy extends to getting people who are sympathetic to their cause in office — both on the school committee that is supposed to negotiate on behalf of taxpayers and in the state legislator and executive roles that set the larger framework in which the government schools operate.

This practice corrupts the ability of school departments and the public to prioritize anything other than higher pay for employees.  Things like ensuring that a century-old building isn’t going to fall apart around the students must be accomplished in addition to the unions’ demands.  Either the extra costs for buildings must be hidden within state-level taxes, or the dollars must be borrowed.

Inevitability is difficult to prove, but it seems likely that Rhode Island’s current predicament — falling into a downward spiral when it comes to building maintenance while also failing to get satisfactory results despite high spending on employees — is inevitable when employees are required to organize to control all sides of every negotiation.

Campaign Events at a School Near You

I just got a pre-recorded call from Clay Pell and Michelle Kwan (“Paid for by Clay Pell for Governor”) advertising a campaign event at a Middletown public school on Monday.

It makes sense, I suppose, that the hand-picked candidate of a teachers’ union would take that route.  After all, the unions are very familiar with the value of using school property and resources (such as school phone-tree announcements and handouts sent home with students) to give political activism an official feel.

I don’t know where the lines are for use of school property for political events, but this feels vaguely wrong.  If I were advising any other candidate for office, I’d suggest demanding use of the same space at the same time of day for the same length of time.

Vacation and Presidencies

Judging from Amity Shlaes’s book, Coolidge, presidents of the early Twentieth Century vacationed by means of a Summer White House.  To be sure, technology then wasn’t as it is now, so a mobile base of operations was an elaborate undertaking that would lend itself to such thinking.

Much of the trip wasn’t a vacation so much as working in a different place, and even the leisure activities were meant to serve a diplomatic function.  In South Dakota, for example, President Coolidge’s visit was meant, on his part, as a means of understanding the people of the region (and their similarities) and, on the part  of South Dakotans, as a means of showing off their state to the president and to the country.

Consequently, when the Associated Press comes to the defense of President Obama at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, saying that “President Obama has spent less time away from the White House” than his predecessors, one gets the sense that the point is being missed.  The news media of Coolidge’s day reported how many fish he caught and speculated about his displeasure when his wife got lost in a stroll through the woods.  That is, “how is the president faring in an unfamiliar region of our country?”

In Matthew Continetti’s telling, it’s as if Obama has inverted everything.  The fact that he’s away from the White House is mainly immaterial, because President Obama seems to be disengaged and living it up no matter where he is:

For this president, the distinction between “time off” and “time on” is meaningless. For this president, every day is a vacation. And has been for some time. He is like Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld. “His whole life is a fantasy camp,” George Costanza says of his friend. “People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week.” Imagine what they would pay to live like Obama.

In her AP article, Darlene Superville notes that President Bush had spent more “partial or complete days” at his ranch in Crawford, plus 26 at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.  That may have lacked the diplomatic investment of a South Dakota excursion, but it still gives more the sense of a second White House than yet another circuit of golf, beach, dining out, and concerts on the Vineyard.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 40 (Public Funding of Art)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the morality and economics of funding art through the government.

Legislator Contracts and Contractors for Ethics Commission Purposes

Whether it violates the Code of Ethics for legislators or their employers to take money from state agencies depends on the specifics of the case and requires clarification from the state Ethics Commission.

Wrong Term for the Welfare State

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but indicative of the wrong attitude held by supporters of big, nanny government, that Alisha Pina, of the Providence Journal, used the word that I’ve italicized in the following quotation in her article today, about a conference at which Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services touted its efforts to make it easier to hand out taxpayer money:

The department plans to roll out the changes in its five other offices over the next few months.

A new customer-focused system, says Powell, will also debut in September. Applicants will then have a unique PIN and password with which to look at their benefits information and change phone numbers or addresses without having to contact a caseworker.

There are 176,146 individuals getting SNAP assistance and 13,586 residents getting cash assistance — previously referred to as welfare — from the state as of July, said Michael Jolin, Department of Human Services spokesman.

A quick check of Merriam-Webster confirms that the word, “customer,” means “one that purchases a commodity or service.”  Beneficiaries of government hand-outs are not purchasing anything in that transaction.  If anybody is a “customer” of this system, it’s the taxpayer who buys his or her way out of personal responsibility for helping people in the community who are facing tough times.

There’s no shame in using what means are available to support one’s family (if that’s the intention), and it’s understandable, at least, that activists in this day and age would find it appropriate to confiscate money from other people (whose problems they can’t see) in order to give it to people in need (whose problems they can see).  Be empathy what it may, however, we shouldn’t lose the distinction between purchasing and collecting.

Unless, that is, the bureaucrats and journalists intend to suggest that the beneficiaries have purchased the hand-outs with their votes.

Becoming the Medicaid State

Yesterday, I noted that enrollment in health insurance plans through the state-government-operated HealthSource RI had dipped by August 2.  In contrast, Medicaid enrollments have continued to grow, by an average of 3,430 per month, or a five percent growth of the total Medicaid rolls from the end of March to the end of August, now up to 257,884.  That’s now more than one-quarter of the entire state population.

If we assume that all new Medicaid enrollments were through the exchange, it’s an increase of 21% since March.

 

Here’s a not-so-fun fact:  The number of new Medicaid enrollments in Rhode Island from March to August was more than five times greater than the number of seasonally adjusted new jobs based in Rhode Island.  If you want a barometer of the direction in which the state is headed, that’s a pretty good one.

When the Future Can Pay for Your Business Model

The federal government’s deus ex machina act with HealthSource RI is as good an example as any of how government shouldn’t (but inevitably will) behave.  There was a little bit less than the preferred 100% certainty that the state would allocate money for its experiment in health broker entreneurialism during the last session of the state General Assembly, and the administration of big brother Obama swooped in with the cash to keep the Web site going for another year.

It wasn’t supposed to do so, under the written word of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), and the state wasn’t supposed to accept it, under the written word of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s executive order creating the health benefits exchange.  But what’s the rule of law and twenty-something million dollars compared with giving government agents the opportunity to experiment with a new business model?

If the U.S. Congress and the governor have to say one thing in order to get their big-government policies implemented and then ignore the specifics when they become inconvenient, and if more imaginary money has to be pushed to the resulting agencies, that’s just the price of trying to solve all of our problems via the political system.

The combined activities of Americas local, state, and federal governments now cost more per American household than the median American household brings home in income.  The federal debt is now higher than the national GDP.  In Rhode Island, the state government is suffering the consequences of its need to fill budget gap with one-time fixes and a ratcheting squeeze on residents, who are choosing to leave.

Last week, I checked in with HealthSource RI.  After the open enrollment period ended in March, the agency had 27,961 enrolled individuals, with 21,097 having paid.  By the end of April, 25,767 had paid.  As of August 2, HealthSource counted 26,686 enrollees and 25,892 people paid up.

The federal government, in other words, gave nearly $1,000 per enrollee just for the exchange’s operating costs.  That doesn’t include the subsidies that 85-90% of the enrollees are receiving.

It takes a little bit of education and imagination to see the consequences of this behavior.  All that money comes from somewhere, and by the looks of the recent trends, it isn’t the much-vilified One Percent.  Not being able to trust that the deal that politicians make actually means what they say it means when they first say it has consequences, too.

It may be the perfect crime, though.  As the machine works its destruction, those whom it kills and those from whom it steals can’t easily see who’s to blame.