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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

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What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.


The Millennial Wave That Might Not Be

For years, we’ve heard how much attention must be paid to the Millennial generation, because its members would soon change the face of society and politics.  They may very well do that, as a large generation, but a tidbit from Ian Donnis’s latest Friday column reminds us that Millennials are human, too:

Which generation has the greatest increase in voter registration in Rhode Island from 2014 to 2018? Would you believe the Silent Generation (people born between 1928-45), which had a 39 percent bump, from 996 to 1,381 over the last four years, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office. Boomer (born 1945-64) registrations jumped 30 percent, from 4,163 to 5,423, while Xers (1965-1980) climbed 20 percent, from 5,055 to 6,060. Generation Z (1997-) is up 9 percent, 3,290 to 3,574, while Millennial (1981-1996) registrations dropped 11 percent, from 12,275 to 10,892.

So why would the number of voter registrations among Millennials drop as we head toward elections that the mainstream media has been hyping as their chance to save humanity?  An answer would take more digging than I’ve time for at the moment, but I think we can return to my old thesis about the “productive class.”

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Over the last four years, the youngest Millennials have moved on from college, or whatever they were doing as they transitioned into their 20s, and the oldest Millennials moved into their late 30s and (gasp!) middle age.  As I’ve been saying since even the oldest Millennials were still in their 20s, the people who tend to leave Rhode Island are those in the “meaty, motivated segment on the cusp of the middle class” — people who want to cash in their talents and labor to build their lives.  That transaction remains much more difficult in Rhode Island than elsewhere.

The harder question may be who remains behind.  Some Millennials in their still-idealistic (read: naive) youth, probably.  However, the non-Millennial cohort could surprise us.  Will they be defined by newly wizened GenXers who have too much experience to fall for socialist promises or seniors too far removed from their careers and too reliant on other people to resist the lure of big government?

We’ll see.  In the meantime, perhaps we should take the lesson that demographics are not destiny and at least some people can change their minds… or move.


Kilmartin Wants the Cogs to Stay on the Political Gear

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has already responded to a strange press release from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in which the AG does little but attempt to sow doubt about information helping government employees decide whether they want to remain in their unions.  The most important observation one can make about the press release is that Kilmartin never provides an example of the supposed “misinformation,” or even names the supposed interloper; he’s simply casting shade.

However, the most eye-catching part is probably this:

“If you are contacted about disaffiliating from your public-sector union in the wake of the Janus decision, it is critical that you seek advice either from your union, or from some other reliable source. No worker should rely solely upon any outside group seeking to have the worker waive such a critical right.”

So, this public official’s advice to any employees who have doubts about their unions is to get information from… the unions.  One suspects that information would have a decidedly pro-union tilt, which is clearly what Kilmartin wants.  Take special note of his formulation about “outside groups.”  Implicitly, he’s saying that the unions are “inside groups.” Inside of what?  Well, government.  In his view, they are not essentially the privately run organizations that they actually are; they are part of a team with elected and appointed officials, helping to run government.

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This is how progressives like to structure things.  Every group is represented by some hierarchy, and the leaders communicate and then issue edicts to their constituencies.  The “business community” works through whatever chamber or group government officials wish to select as their voice.  Employees are addressed not as individuals, but as members of their unions.  Even local communities aren’t so much electing representatives to go to Providence and advocate on our behalf as we are electing the people who will represent state government to us.

In this approach, employees aren’t valued individually for their work.  They’re cogs in the unionized machine that does work for government (and cycles taxpayer dollars back into political campaigns).  Those who fancy themselves not to be cogs in a machine should take a look at


Alarm Versus Denial and Experience of a Hot Summer

With insinuations about climate change, this morning, somebody tweeted a Providence Journal article at me headlined, “Providence is likely to record its hottest August on record“:

“We are on pace to be the warmest August on record,” Alan Dunham, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norton, Massachusetts, said early on Friday.

This August has included 11 days above 90 degrees and two official heat waves — Aug. 5 to 9 and Aug. 28 to 30. Meteorologists define a heat wave as at least three days in a row with high temperatures at 90 or above.

The funny thing is that whenever those of us who remain somewhat skeptical about climate alarmism bring up particularly cold months in winter, the alarmists scoff about the difference between climate and weather.  When it’s hot in a given month, however, apparently that’s decisive.

By serendipity, this morning I also came across an interactive tool from the New York Times that shows you the change in number of days per year above 90 degrees in your hometown since you were born and (of course) projected into the future with a scary curve.  When I was born in 1975, my childhood home in northern New Jersey could expect six 90-degree days, which climbed to 11 days in 2017 and (they project) will reach 27 days by the time I’m 80.

But my 25-year high school reunion is coming up, and according to the graph, there has been no increase in 90 degree days since the year I graduated.  Let’s just say that’s not what we were led to expect back then.

Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t have data for Rhode Island or any Massachusetts towns on our border.  However, we can compare with Connecticut.  Plug in Killingly and the oldest start date possible of 1960, and you get one 90-degree day on average back then, which has gone to… one day now.  Actually, it’s gone down, from just over one day to just under one day.

So what do we make of the fact that Providence had 11 90-degree days in August alone when a nearby town is supposed to average just one per year?  Well, for the record, various sources that come up in an online search give higher numbers for Providence, trending around 10 per year and three in August.  This, however, is where we get to that difference between weather and climate.  These are all averages, and as a summary report on NOAA’s Web site (perhaps from 2001) puts it, Rhode Island’s urban areas average eight to 10 summer days over 90 degrees, which can go up to around 20 days in a given year.

So, back to the point:  We should be aware of climate and do what we can for the health of our environment, but when it comes to handing over freedoms or tying down our economy, the evidence just isn’t sufficient to justify it.


Bishop Tobin on His Responsibilities in Pittsburgh

On Thursday, August 30, 2018, the Ocean State Current sat down with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, to ask about controversies over his statement to local news media that sexual abuse issues in Pittsburgh were not within the scope of his official responsibilities.

Ocean State Current: You’ve been coming under a lot of fire lately about the Province Journal report with you saying that your responsibilities were other than dealing with the abuse scandal, and with the help of the article itself and the headline writer, especially, people on social media, friends of mine included, people have been taking it as if you had said, “I would hear about things and then do nothing about them.”  But even from the text in the Journal, that didn’t seem to be what you’re saying.

Bishop Thomas Tobin:  Of course not.

OSC: First, I’d like to your clarification of what you meant to say.

Tobin:  The questions came about really in the context of the grand jury report, and the questions came from Ted Nesi and from Kathy Gregg, and the basic thrust was, “You were in Pittsburgh during part of this time.  What did you know about these reports and were you involved the grand jury process?”  The basic answer was, “I was not involved in the grand jury process.”  I was not contacted; I was not interviewed; my name doesn’t appear in the report. And the reason for that is because I was not dealing with clergy issues during my time at the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  I had other obligations, and the bishop did not designate me, he did not authorize me, to deal with clergy things.

That does not mean that they weren’t being dealt with.  They were being dealt with by the bishop’s office, by the legal office, by the clergy office, and by communications.  So the fact that I was not personally dealing with those things, nor was I authorized to, they were still being handled very promptly (I think) and professionally by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, at least during my time there. Including, by the way, that response by the diocese, including reporting to civil authorities.  So the question would be, when they say I did not report those incidents, that’s true… because they had already been reported and how many times do you report the same thing?

They were being reported by other people the diocese.  They were being handled, but not by me.

OSC: So when you said in that exchange with the Providence Journal that you would hear about things while you were there you meant mainly in your context as an official of the church.  People would talk about what was going on and report on it.

Tobin: Yeah, I would hear about it, of course, because I was part of the central office staff.  But the, allegations, the incidences of abuse did not come to my office. They went either to the director of the bishop’s office or to the clergy office or to the communications office or to the legal office.  So, the allegations didn’t come to my office, they went to other people in the diocese, and after they came to the diocese is when I became aware of them, and they were already being handled and reported by other people.

OSC: In your time in Pennsylvania, did you ever hear independently of any instances of abuse or allegations.

Tobin: No.

OSC: So, anything you heard of was already within the context of…

Tobin: I was never made aware of any, you know, of anybody saying, “Did you know father so-and-so is doing this and that?”  No, we never heard about those kinds of things, and that was part the problem, because they were always kept relatively secret, so no, I never heard anything about father so-and-so doing this or father so-and-so doing that.

OSC: Kept relatively secret by whom?

Tobin: Well, by the people involved.

OSC: So you never had to report anything because you heard of it independently.

Tobin: No.

Carolyn Cronin, communications director for the diocese: Because it wasn’t reported to you.

Tobin: No, it was reported, again, to the bishop’s office, to clergy, to legal, to communications, and that was the team, more or less, that would handle these things — would remove the priest, would report it to the civil authorities, would notify the parishes, would work with the families.  But again, my duties did not include that.

OSC: And in that process, if an allegation came forward, obviously, some would not be criminal, even if inappropriate, was that the first step, to determine that, and if it was potentially criminal immediately be reported to the police?

Tobin: Well, I think, again, in this context I think mostly what we’re talking about is sexual abuse of minors.  Now, I’m sure there were other priests, you know, involved in other inappropriate things, but sexual abuse of minors didn’t come to my office.  Now, for example, I might get a complaint about a priest if he wasn’t sending in his annual financial report, or I might get a complaint about a priest in my office if he was undertaking a building project without permission, or I might get a complaint about a priest in my office who was preaching heresy.  Clergy misconduct — clergy sexual misconduct — especially of minors, did not come to my office.

OSC: So you were basically part of a team addressing different…

Tobin: Yeah, not everybody in a chancery does the same thing.  I’ll give you an example:  Bishop Evans is our auxiliary bishop, as I was in Pittsburgh, although he deals with clergy things, but 10 years from now, if somebody comes to Bishop Evans and says, “Bishop Evans, when you heard about father so-and-so doing this and that, did you report it?”  He’s going to say, “no,” because he doesn’t report it.  Other people in the diocese report it, even if he’s heard about the allegation, Kevin O’Brien, who’s our compliance officer, or our attorney will report it to the state police and the attorney general.  But if they ask him 10 years from now, “When you heard about that, did you report it?”  He’s going to say, “No, I didn’t report it.”

Does that mean you don’t care?  Of course he cares, but it’s already been taken care of by somebody else, and I think that’s the thrust in Pittsburgh.  It was being taken care of — in my time, in my view, in a rather responsible and prompt way — but it just wasn’t in my office, and I wasn’t receiving reports to deal with those things.  Other people were dealing with them.

OSC: And in the process that those other people were following, at what point would they report something to civil authorities?  As soon as they heard of an allegation?

Tobin: I don’t know.  I would presume so.  I don’t know if they would have a staff meeting first and then report it, or if an individual would report it.  I think probably the protocol changed over the years.  Remember, the grand jury report  covers 70 years.  As I said to Ted Nesi, some of these reports were allegations before I was born.  I was there 11 of those 70 years, so I can really only address what happened during that time, and again, I wasn’t always directly involved in those conversations.  I was dealing with other things, so did they have a staff meeting first and then report it?  Did they report it first?  It may have varied from case to case.  I don’t know that.

OSC: Would you ever hear about the outcomes of the cases?

Tobin: Oh, sure, because they’d become public.  If a priest was removed from office, it would become public.  If a priest was arrested, it would become public.  So, yeah, eventually most of them did become public.


Rowing the Cover Up Narrative with a Broken Ohr

Not to repeat myself repeat myself, but we really are living in different worlds, these days.

Early this morning, Rhode Island TV reporter Sean Daly tweeted the following in (123):

NBC’s Chuck Todd had some advice for journalists on Thursday: Don’t skip work on Friday, or you could miss a potential bombshell. “Here’s what I’ve learned about Bob Mueller,” Todd said.

“Not a single person that has known him, been with him, worked with him, wouldn’t say that he would have ended this investigation if there was no collusion. He would have already ended this investigation.”

Todd then added he believes Mueller will likely keep quiet between Labor Day-Election Day. Which led the MTP host to this conclusion: “I’m not missing work tomorrow. I wouldn’t miss work tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last business day of the pre-Labor Day to Election Day window.”

The insinuation is that some big shoe will drop today moving the Trump-Russia collusion case toward the president, if not all the way to his door.  Of course, the day isn’t over, yet, but it won’t change my understanding of the universe if Mueller does just that.  I also won’t find it Earth-shattering if Mueller takes action during this supposed indictment-free period prior to the election.  And I won’t find my world upside down if (as I suspect) no collusion charges are ever substantiated.

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I’m not sure, however, that the same is true for those who are convinced that there’s something to the allegations.  For them, there has to be a there there.  The alternative goes against everything they’ve come to believe.

And to be fair, that’s not entirely their fault.  The news media — yes, “fake news” — has been denying them the context by which to really understand what’s going on.  Take as my case in point an AP article headlined in the Fall River Herald with, “Lawyer was told Russia had ‘Trump over a barrel’.”  The lawyer in question is Bruce Ohr of the Justice Department, whose name will set off alarms for anybody who’s been following this story.

A senior Justice Department lawyer says a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel,” according to multiple people familiar with the encounter.

The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also says he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said.

The previously unreported details of the July 30, 2016, breakfast with Christopher Steele, which Ohr described to lawmakers this week in a private interview, reveal an exchange of potentially explosive information about Trump between two men the president has relentlessly sought to discredit.

One can only marvel at the audacity of this story to claim that this information “add[s] to the public understanding of those pivotal summer months as the FBI and intelligence community scrambled to untangle possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.”  Bruce Ohr’s wife worked for Fusion GPS, which the Clinton campaign and Democrat National Committee funded for opposition research against Trump and which hired Christopher Steele to find dirt.

In short, “multiple” anonymous sources leaked select details from a private meeting about what a compromised government lawyer claims to have been told by a spy-for-hire and his wife’s employer, which was being paid to tar the now-president.  Except as evidence of collusion between the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign, this is garbage, and the obviousness that this is garbage may be the reason that this is the extent to which the relationships are explained in the article:

One of the meetings described to House lawmakers Tuesday was a Washington breakfast attended by Steele, an associate of his and Ohr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, who worked for the political research firm, Fusion GPS, that hired Steele, attended at least part of the breakfast.

Really, this is getting to be too much to take.  I don’t put much stock in Trump’s character, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is proven to have crossed lines in his campaign, although I don’t think the evidence so far supports the collusion accusations and, frankly, I subscribe to the school of thought that suspects he didn’t really want to win, in the first place, which may explain why he didn’t cross that line, if indeed he didn’t.

However, it is clearer and clearer that the prior president and another former president’s wife conspired with their party as well as foreign nationals to manipulate the election, not only in the Democrat primary, but also in the general.  It is also clearer and clearer that the mainstream news media is doing its best to be part of the cover up whether because they are really just partisan activists or are true believers.


The Common Goals of the Governor and the Labor Union Versus Home Care Workers

Yesterday, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity questioned whether there was any connection between the state executive’s delay of raises for home care workers and a self-promotional postcard from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) insinuating that those workers’ agencies were the ones withholding the money:

The SEIU postcard deceptively makes it appear as if the home care agencies received the legislative reimbursement rate increases … but that that they were not passed on to the individual providers in the form of a pay increase. The RIPHC has promised its home care service providers that virtually all reimbursement increases would be passed on to them, however, the agencies have not yet received the scheduled increases.

Was this part of a grand, corrupt scheme? Further investigation is required.

For its part, the SEIU had no response but to parrot unsubstantiated (and, in any case, irrelevant) assertions about the Center’s funding.  There is far more reason to believe the SEIU and Governor Gina Raimondo are coordinating in this matter than that anybody who opposes them must be a front for some out-of-state bogeymen.

The SEIU’s postcard raises two issues:

On 7/1/18 all Home Care Agencies received large increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates via the RI State Budget…

Under a new state law that our union helped to fight for, every employer with 18 or more employees must provide earned sick time starting July 1, 2018.

When the SEIU endorsed Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s reelection, her statement cited similar issues, but with one conspicuous difference:

“With the SEIU by my side, we will keep making great progress for our hardworking families so every single Rhode Islander can keep up and get ahead,” said Governor Raimondo. “Together we signed paid sick leave into law, we’ve worked together year after year to invest in our kids and the hardworking Rhode Islanders who care for them with good contracts for childcare workers, we passed a new law to help train and organize home-care workers and provide our aging population with the high-quality care they need, and we’ll keep listening to each other to protect more Rhode Island workers and make sure that everyone can compete in our growing economy.”

Note that Raimondo doesn’t mention the raises, but rather, she focuses on new legislation that could enable a labor union to replace the private agencies currently coordinating home-care services.  And why should she?  The raises were put in the budget by the General Assembly, not as part of the governor’s request.

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Another place that conspicuously fails to mention the forthcoming raises is the Facebook page of the SEIU local 1199, which produced the postcard.  The page contains multiple posts celebrating the unionization legislation, but nothing about raises.  Obviously, the union doesn’t like telling the story that home care workers can secure raises without unionizing.

However, the SEIU’s Facebook page does have multiple posts celebrating labor union strikes outside of a hospital and a school for disabled children.  While the legislation allowing unionization of home care workers does not authorize “any strike or other collective cessation” of services, this is the world into which unionization would potentially drag those who need these services, and as we’re now seeing with Providence teachers, that world includes not-quite-a-strike actions like “work to rule.”

A world in which the governor insists that she’s been “working together” with the SEIU is also one in which it is not unreasonable to wonder whether their cooperation includes manipulation of payments to workers in order to give the union an opening.  After all, the union’s endorsement means the SEIU will be working to help Gina Raimondo be elected.  Labor unions are elected, too, and the question is what Raimondo will do to help the SEIU win.

A desire not to be a part of that world is one reason government employees might choose to visit and learn how to withdraw from their unions, and is a reason home-care workers might choose not to become members in the first place.


Tobin Addresses Controversy Among Catholic Hierarchy, Up to Pope Francis

Late yesterday, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a statement regarding claims about internal conflicts within the international Church:

First, I need to emphasize that I do not have any privileged information about this matter, nor do I have the facts necessary to come to a definitive, impartial judgement. Nonetheless, the allegations lodged by Archbishop Viganò involving Pope Francis are substantive, and need to be investigated in a prompt and just manner.

The present impasse in the Church, unfolding on an international level, has caused confusion and division among the faithful, even locally. Only Pope Francis can resolve the serious crisis in which the Church now finds herself, and I respectfully urge His Holiness to address this matter as soon as possible. The future direction of the Church, its spiritual welfare, and the faith of God’s people, are at stake.

At issue are allegations in a letter by retired nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that high ranking members of the church hierarchy strove to protect prominent American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was broadly thought to make a regular practice of inappropriate relationships with seminarians and who has been accused of abusing minors.  Viganò also alleges that Pope Francis re-elevated McCarrick after Pope Benedict XVI had removed all of his privileges and ordered him to live a quiet life of prayer and penance.

Bishop Tobin spoke with the Ocean State Current about this matter earlier yesterday.  “Before, I was saying that we had a double-barrel shotgun [pointed at the Church], with the McCarrick situation and the Pennsylvania grand jury,” said Tobin, referring to the release of investigative documents showing hundreds of abuse cases in Pennsylvania over some 70 years.  “I guess it’s a triple shotgun that we have now, with all the allegations about the pope and Archbishop Viganò and the Vatican and so forth.”*

The bishop encouraged Catholics who are understandably “angry and upset and confused and wondering” to balance what they’re hearing with their own “good experiences in their parishes, with their priests, with Catholic schools, with the Church in general.”

Linking institutional divisions among cardinals and bishops to theological differences covering matters that would be considered social issues in the secular context, Bishop Tobin said:

I think it’s very clear that we’ve entered a new phase in terms of the Church on an international level. It’s unprecedented for us, at least in our time, my time, that bishops and archbishops are on different sides, publicly, on an issue, that bishops are calling cardinals liars, that some of the hierarchy have asked the pope to resign. I think this has revealed a clear power struggle, a clear rift, in the Church, and it focuses on the international level are on the pontificate of Pope Francis, and that’s not for me to say “yes” or “no” or positive or negative, but it’s clearly around his pontificate.

Still, Tobin emphasized that “every pope has supporters and detractors” and that Pope Francis is “fulfilling his pontificate as he was chosen to do and to the best of his abilities and to the best of his conscience, and we need to admire that and to support that.”


* Bracketed text added at 5:07 p.m., 8/31/18, to clarify that the bishop was characterizing how the scandals relate to each other in harming the Church, not the political weapon that one faction within the Church has against another.


Giving a Little Balanced Economic Thinking to Climate Change and the Poor

One needn’t agree with everything a climate change skeptic says to observe something conspicuous from the alarmist side.  They rarely treat the question of climate change as an issue with unfortunate trade-offs, as Byorn Lomborg does in an essay for the New York Post:

Activist organizations like Worldwatch argue that higher temperatures will make more people hungry, so drastic carbon cuts are needed. But a comprehensive new study published in Nature Climate Change led by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has found that strong global climate action would cause far more hunger and food insecurity than climate change itself.

The scientists used eight global-agricultural models to analyze various scenarios between now and 2050. These models suggest, on average, that climate change could put an extra 24 million people at risk of hunger. But a global carbon tax would increase food prices and push 78 million more people into risk of hunger. The areas expected to be most vulnerable are sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Indeed, the attitude of alarmists is pretty good evidence that their solutions come before their reason for them, because the depth of analysis is lacking.  A promotional interview of progressive candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg that Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) misleadingly presents as a “debate” contains a good example.

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Regunberg pitches the move to reduce the flow of traditional energy into the state as a good economic trade-off.  Imported fuel sends our energy dollars out of state, he says, while home-grown green energy production keeps energy dollars here.  Even without going into the ways in which modern companies are constructed (with supply lines crossing many borders), we can observe Regunberg’s lack of economic depth.

If imported traditional energy is (let’s just say) half the cost of local green energy, it is a cold comfort to local residents that they’re spending twice as much on energy, but with the extra going people who happen to share their state.  On the commercial side, local businesses could reinvest that money in themselves.  In both cases, all of the extra money going into the local green machine is coming out of the local economy anyway.

As with Regunberg’s claims about single-payer health care, progressives insist that their policies are 100% upside and the only reason to disagree is some sort of hatred or greed.  On its face, that’s foolish.


The Red Threat Funding the Left

It’s a cliché (and no less likely to be true for being such) to say that progressives will always tell you what they are doing by accusing the other side of it.  Thus, we get coordinated accusations about “Koch brothers funding” in the most local of races all the way up to the most nationally concerned disputes while George Soros funds the broad and hostile Left and Tom Steyer undemocratically changes energy policies in states in which he does not live.

Thus, we get unsubstantiated assertions of Russian investment in the American Right even as this is going on:

China’s Communist Party is intensifying covert influence operations in the United States that include funding Washington think tanks and coercing Chinese Americans, according to a congressional commission report. …

In addition to Johns Hopkins, other think tanks linked to China and influential in American policy circles include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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So, at best, we’ve got a complex world in which both sides do similar things, each with a mix of motivations and effects.  My experience, though, is that progressives’ activities carry what most people would perceive to be a suspicious tinge.  That makes sense objectively:  The Left, after all, is defined by its comfort with centralized authority and positions itself in opposition to established norms.

However much these Left-Right scales may balance, though, we shouldn’t allow the assumption that anything done for progressive causes is excusable.


Providence School Unions Send Parents a Message

… and that message ought to be: These unions have too much power over your lives.

First up is the threat of a strike by the Teamsters who represent the bus drivers:

The union representing 200 bus drivers for Providence schools is threatening to strike.

A strike authorization was approved by the membership of Teamsters Local 251, secretary-treasurer Matthew Taibi said Wednesday.

Astonishingly, what they want is for the bus company for which they work, First Student, to switch out their 401ks for a pension.  A pension!  Everybody in the world is learning that defined-benefit pensions just don’t work.  Reasonable contributions and a realistic rate of investment returns just can’t produce enough money to keep people living as well as they want for as long as they live.  Wanting in to this system would be insane, except that the unions are banking on their ability to make governments (and government contractors) increase the cost of services to taxpayers.

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Yet, precisely this sort of shenanigan is what should make taxpayers less sympathetic to their plight.  The next time we have to choose between huge tax increases to “honor our promises” to employees and reducing the benefits that employees receive, remember that the unions are key players in forcing those promises to be made despite the risks.

Next up is the threat of work-to-rule from the teachers union:

The Providence Teachers Union has voted overwhelmingly to authorize work-to-rule in the event that tomorrow’s negotiations with the city do not show progress, according to PTU President Maribeth Calabro.

She said 1,940 members voted Monday to move to work-to-rule after two years without a new teachers’ contract. Work-to-rule means that teachers only do what’s is laid out in their contract.

Ah, life in a workers’ paradise, where bus drivers striking in order to enter a broken pension system could force families struggling to make ends meet to find some other way to get their children to schools in which well-paid teachers who work a significantly shortened work year refuse to do anything beyond the minimum in order to protect and expand their employment deal.


A Broken News Story and the Social Media Panopticon

I’ve been trying to remember what life was like before the Internet — specifically social media.  Specifically fights and arguments.

It was much more difficult, back then, to say extremely stupid things to people you didn’t know.  That was true not only because of the greater effort required to transmit any message, but also because most of us have natural safeguards in our personalities that lead us to make better decisions when we have to pause before taking action.

So, a person might express a vile thought about some stranger who said something disagreeable in a random conversation.   At some point, though, others would break the two apart, or the heat would cool enough to stop the escalation.  As a general rule, somebody’s aggression toward you would have had to be chronic before escalating to the point of, say, trying to get that person fired from his or her job.

Nowadays, it’s far too easy for somebody to say something extremely stupid and offensive to a person he or she doesn’t know and has never seen face to face, and then it’s far too easy for the target of that offense to gather details about the offender and seek to hurt him or her IRL (in real life).  Then, companies are far too skittish about the effect that their employees’ behavior will have on their brands, and online publications are far too desirous of click-bait that makes stories out of the lowest level of personal interaction.

GoLocalProv has posted a case in point:

A graphic, sexually harassing post during a Facebook argument in Rhode Island has led to New York Life terminating the employee who made the post. It all took less than 24 hours.

These aren’t public figures or prominent personages.  The two people involved were just two folks arguing about President Donald Trump and the late Senator John McCain.  One posted a picture of the other’s son (found online) with an allegation of incestuous rape.  This wildly inappropriate and certainly condemnable post brought hundreds of rebukes, but that wasn’t enough for the father:

“I want [him] fired and I want a public apology from [his employer]. I tweeted them already. If these are the people they hire then they should go out of business,” [he] said.

That’s when GoLocalProv became an active part of the story:

After GoLocal contacted [the company’s] corporate communications office for comment, the company reviewed the social media posts and confirmed to GoLocal that [he] was terminated. …

Rhode Island State Police have begun an investigation into the posts.

To be sure, common human decency and a general sense of perspective will probably ensure that episodes like this are the exception, but we should take the opportunity to think about expectations in our society.  Is this how we want to live?  Shouldn’t we want to encourage good behavior and give each other off-ramps from fights as they spiral?  Shouldn’t society and its standards be designed to deescalate?  It is easy for a person to walk away from a feud with a lesson learned when the punishment for an online offense consists of hundreds of strangers condemning it and having lost the social media account.  When the fight breaks into everyday life, learning and moving on is manifestly not so easy.

We can only hope that the man who lost his job and is under investigation by the police takes the lesson and quiets down.  But if this incident triggers other explosions in this life and follows him like the mark of Cain, the story might not be over.  GoLocalProv, no doubt, will be happy to publish further stories about any violence that occurs and trace the utter deterioration of a man’s life… all the while taking credit for having broken the story.

“Broken,” indeed.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: A Long Ride on a Short Bridge

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, about the politics of bridge traffic and the competitiveness of primaries and Providence mayorality.

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I’ll be on again Monday, September 3, at 1:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


The Unspoken Solution for 195 Bridge Traffic

This thread jumped out at me from a Providence Journal editorial about the disaster-level traffic resulting from ordinary, planned bridge construction on Route 195 West:

Fortunately, Mr. Alviti, though not answerable to the voters, quickly caught wind of the uproar. He announced last week that he, his planners and traffic engineers will go “back to the drawing board” to see if anything can be done. They were working over the weekend on a new plan, looking at opening an additional lane and otherwise increasing capacity for vehicles. …

In the real world, there is no easy way out, of course. As one of the 235 deficient bridges in the state, Washington Bridge does need to be repaired. In the 20 years since its northern span was reconstructed, it has been rotting away, with rusty reinforcement rods sticking out of the concrete on its underside. …

To speed things up, the RIDOT already plans to work around the clock, toiling through the night, which adds to a project’s cost but makes the work go faster.

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For some reason, the most important point for us to discuss as a community in response to these government failings never seems to come up.  If we were to lighten up on the ridiculous labor rules that make the cost of roadwork so high, project managers would gain all kinds of flexibility.  That’s a side effect whenever the price of something goes down.

Drop the cost of construction 25–40% (or more), and the state and municipalities will find it easier to keep roads and bridges well kept so they don’t get to the point of needing major repairs as quickly.  Working around the clock or only when traffic is light would more-often be an option.  If the cost were lower, we might have the slack in maintenance budgets to (in some instances) build entire alternate routes while the main route is entirely shut down.

When insider deals and corruption eat up budgets to the maximum that people will tolerate for the minimum tolerable output, there is no room for spending on strategies that make Rhode Islanders’ lives better in the midst of construction.


Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

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How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.


The Truth on the Center’s Funding

Will this statement about the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s funding put a rest to attacks about our funding?

The vast majority of the Center’s funding is derived from almost 500 in-state private donors, who support our mission to see Rhode Islanders live and work in a freer society. The occasional grants the Center may be awarded from national foundations are earned via a competitive grant application process in support of policy initiatives conceived by the Center.

There is no regular source of funding to our Center from any out of state group that seeks to influence our operations.

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It is curious why our critics fail to understand that there are many, many concerned citizens in our state who share the Center’s free-enterprise vision. Such donors voluntarily choose to financially support our mission to put forth policy ideas to realize our vision to achieve increased freedom and prosperity, They, like us, believe that all citizens should be able to freely engage in a robust and honest public debate about such ideas.

The Center’s staff and Board of Directors make 100% of the decisions about which policy angles to pursue. We do not do the bidding of any outside group, however the interests of our Center and certain state and national foundations may occasionally overlap.

The answer to my question, above, is: of course not.  Dark allegations about our funding are not sincere.  They’re opportunistic slanders meant to belittle our work.  There will never be a satisfactory level of transparency, because progressives will insinuate we’re hiding something (while attacking our supporters to chase them away).


Bristol-Warren Teachers Union’s Coercive Deception

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that government employees cannot be forced to pay fees to labor unions that they choose not to join.  In response, the Bristol-Warren Education Association (BWEA) — the local of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) representing teachers in that regional school district — has sent out a letter to teachers claiming that they will not only lose some benefits of teacher membership if they don’t remain members, but also that they could face additional costs if they seek to assert their rights under the contract.

The language of the teachers’ contract, however, belies the claims of the letter and could, itself, indicate that the letter is a contract violation.  Government employees receiving such letters from their labor unions should use the resources available to them through to learn about their rights and, if they choose, to exercise their right to leave the union.

The broadest way in which the BWEA’s letter is arguably deceptive comes with the contract’s Article 1, Section F, which bars both the school district and the union from “discrimination, interference, restraint, or coercion, against any member of the Association, or any individual not a member of the Association either on the account of such membership or on the account of the rights of members of the teaching staff to refrain from membership.”  Section G covers the more-usual understanding of discrimination based on identity groups, meaning that Section F is specifically about membership in the union.

As such, the union cannot treat these teachers differently when it comes to membership rights under the contract.  One membership right that non-members should retain is voting on contracts, which the letter states that non-members cannot do.  Another membership right is access to services from the union without having to pay additional fees.

This reading is reinforced by the fact that the contract requires non-member teachers to pay “a representative benefit fee” that is equal to dues.  Additionally, Article 3, Section D, allows these fees in order to cover the expenses of “negotiation and administration” of the agreement (emphasis added).  The most straightforward interpretation is that the people who drafted and approved the contract understood that non-member teachers would receive all of the benefits that members receive for the same amount of money.  The fact that the Supreme Court has declared these fees to be unconstitutional does not mean that the union can unilaterally rebuild them à la carte by, for example, charging teachers for representation in grievance proceedings, which the BWEA’s letter claims it will do.

It is true that Janus allows that “individual nonmembers could be required to pay for” grievance representation (page 17).  However, this contract does not allow such a fee.  The contract states only that “all grievances at Level Two and above will be handled by the Association.”  This isn’t a restriction on the teachers.  Rather, in any case in which a teacher can’t work out his or her disagreement with the school administration on his or her own, the union is obligated to represent the teacher.

This obligation is also in the union’s interests.  As the Supreme Court notes, “unions do not undertake [grievance representation] solely for the benefit of nonmembers” (page 16).  Whatever decision arises from a grievance proceeding will affect all of a union’s members.  For this reason, the court points out, Illinois explicitly allows “a public-sector union the right to send a representative to such proceedings even if the employee declines union representation.”

In Bristol-Warren, the contract is the gateway between the union and those teachers who are not members of the union, and there is no mention of a fee for grievance services.  The union can only impose restrictions on non-member teachers through the school administration.  As it stands until this contract expires on August 31, 2020, the union must represent all teachers, and it cannot collect additional fees.  State law also appears to forbid the union from simply refusing to allow teachers access to the grievance process.

In short, the BWEA will have to negotiate any new fees for non-members into its next contract, which would appropriately include a thorough reworking and articulation of non-members’ rights and relationship with the union.  If the Bristol-Warren school committee is doing its duty representing taxpayers and students, it should require concessions in other areas in order to give the union these new powers.  At the very least, it should insist that non-member teachers have a right to vote on their own contracts and can access a sick-leave bank into which they are obligated to pay.

(That non-member teachers cannot use the sick leave bank is another specious claim of the BWEA’s letter.  Even if local courts determined that the union is correctly interpreting the contract, the Supreme Court repeatedly states in Janus that government agencies cannot conspire with labor unions to discriminate against non-members.)

To the consternation of parents, taxpayers, and education reformers alike, Rhode Island’s teacher unions have made the sanctity of contracts the cornerstone of their defenses.  When they aren’t getting their way, for instance, they sometimes “work to rule,” which means they’ll provide no services to students that are not explicitly described in the contract.  The fact that the Supreme Court has found one of their sources of revenue to be unconstitutional does not mean that unions all of a sudden get to impose new (discriminatory) restrictions that also aren’t in the contract.


Center To Spread the Word About Public Employees’ Restored Rights under Janus

I have big news. We’ve launched a major new campaign designed to inform public servants of their recently restored First Amendment rights, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus v AFSCME case. You can see our new website at As a consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, we believe that public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues.

We have partnered with the $10 million national education and outreach campaign, My Pay My Say, to launch a customized Rhode Island initiative.

Despite the Governor’s and the unions’ efforts to keep public employees in the dark, our Center and our national partner have already accumulated tens of thousands of email and mailing addresses of government workers. We expect to contact them in the coming weeks and ongoing for years. We have raised enough money to fund phase one of our campaign, which will include thousands of direct mail pieces. The more money we raise, the more awareness we can create. We respect each person’s right to make an informed decision. It’s unfortunate that unions and their government allies do not. You will be hearing much more from our Center on this important campaign soon!

P.S. The new website includes educational information for public employees, with a dedicated section for teachers, and will soon include information on the political spending of certain government unions. If you know a public sector employee who would like to know more about their rights, tell them to go to now.


Young Democratic Socialists Are a Little Late in the Game

The pamphlet described in an article by Zachary Petrizzo on Campus Reform reads like a smoking gun memo from a strategy that was implemented decades ago:

The Young Democratic Socialists of America organization is urging socialists to “take jobs as teachers” in order to exploit the “political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”

“Why Socialists Should Become Teachers,” an 11-page pamphlet crafted jointly by YDSA and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, contends that education is “a strategic industry to organize,” and offers prospective socialist educators “a basic roadmap for how to get a job in education.”

Socialists enter education in government schools.  They get a high-paying job that is stable to the point of being just about permanent.  And they gain access to impressionable children whom they can indoctrinate.  As a bonus, part of their pay goes to labor unions, which cycle the taxpayer money back into activism and political donations.

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The synergies here are so obvious that the plan is already in effect and undermining our society.  But kids always have to feel like they’re coming up with radical ideas.


Avoiding the Social Media Soma

If you follow or read conservatives online, you’ve probably heard, over the past week, of strange goings on with Facebook.  Apparently, my friend and former Anchor Rising co-contributor Don Hawthorne was caught up in it:

Yesterday morning, Facebook took down all five of my posts, declaring each time that “We removed this post because it looks like spam and doesn’t follow our Community Standards.” …

Many Facebook friends have had the same experience yesterday, with no explanations.

Each time I got the message, I clicked on the “This Isn’t Spam” response option. Facebook replied, saying they needed to review the article to confirm it met Facebook Community Standards. They then came back and, each time, said it did meet standards and would be reposted.

After which, Facebook deleted several of my newly-reposted articles.

Don puts this in the context of the increasingly apparent online censorship of conservatives across platforms, noting:

There are escalating information asymmetries, enabled by technology companies.

Indeed, we have justification for worrying that the “personal social score” that China has begun applying to its people is something of a model.  However, while I agree with Don that “our  culture war is now fully out in the open,” crossing “the line from a voluntary civil society to a coercive political society,” I’m not so sure about this part:

The Left’s outsourcing of censorship to Silicon Valley technology companies leaves only one imperfect, time-sensitive solution—government-enforced deregulation—until there are more responsible leaders.

That “de” is probably not justifiably inserted in front of “regulation,” because regulation is what Don is after.  He’s not alone in thinking maybe the tech giants should face something resembling the breakup of a cartel, but I’m skeptical.  Ultimately, the solution is to get off of these platforms.  Put your genuine content somewhere else — on some conservative site or on your own site — and use social media only to draw people away from social media.

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The tech giants are selling us an addiction to little fixes of attention and affirmation.  If we lower our doses just a little and use technology to build stronger, less manipulated relationships that require minimally more engagement with the actual world, we’ll find ourselves healthier for it, and freer.


Hints of Mail Ballots as the Gateway to Buying Elections

In our weekly segments on his WNRI show, John DePetro and I have long been talking about indications that the new method of winning elections among Rhode Island’s dominant politicians appears to involve direct harvesting of votes through mail ballots.

The first red flag was Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s victory-by-mail-ballot in Cranston.  The next was Democrat Dawn Euer’s win of Rhode Island Senate District 13, with the help of a paid campaigner who became a notary public in order to generate mail-ballot votes.  With no big special elections since then, the indications have been limited to things like Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s attempt at funneling campaign money into Providence and legislation related to notary publics.  And, of course, there has been the governor’s furious campaign to raise more money than many people could think to spend on an election in Rhode Island.

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Now add this to the list, from WPRI’s Dan McGowan:

More than 2,000 Providence voters turned in mail ballot applications ahead of the Sept. 12 primary, a steep increase from the number of mail ballots requested four years ago.

Kathy Placencia, the administrator for the Providence Board of Canvassers, confirmed Friday there were 2,183 requests for mail ballots in Providence by the Aug. 22 deadline, a 50% increase from the 2014 primary that featured competitive races for governor and mayor.

That’s a citywide increase of 50%, but at the ward level, the increases are up to four times the prior number of mail ballots.

Certainly, it could be that widening availability and awareness of mail ballots are leading people to change their habits.  People are increasingly shopping online, after all, including for groceries, and there’s no reason to think waiting in line to vote is an activity that would remain near and dear to Rhode Islanders’ hears if they had a choice.

Still, as we enter election season, this is going to be one of the key areas to watch, particularly as the votes are counted.


The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave
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The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.


Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.


Another Lesson in Autocracy and Fake News on the Environment

Washington Post article that the Providence Journal gives the headline, “New Trump power plant plan could release hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 into air,” merits a closer look.  Even the first paragraph ought to have led editors to temper that headline:

President Donald Trump plans next week to unveil a proposal that would empower states to establish emission standards for coal-fired power plants rather than speeding their retirement – a major overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate policy and one that could significantly increase the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.Trump plans to announce the measure as soon as Tuesday during a visit to West Virginia, according to two administration officials who spoke on the

Read on in the article, though, and even the hook that this power plan “could significantly increase the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere” appears simply to be false.  Note:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s own impact analysis, which runs nearly 300 pages, projects that the proposal would make only slight cuts to overall emissions of pollutants – including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – over the next decade.

So, as a matter of fact, the journalists transform a projection that the plan would result in “cuts” into a “significant increase.”  How do they manage this feat of reversal?  By contrasting the Trump plan with a prior Obama plan that cut much more.

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Readers might concede that the headline goes a bit far but still ask whether it isn’t, on the whole, a reasonable summary.  After all, the Trump proposal would possibly increase the release of carbon dioxide in contrast to existing law, right?  Umm… no.  Read down a number of paragraphs… past some spin by a former Obama administration official… and you’ll find this:

Since the outset of the administration, officials have said they intended to replace the Clean Power Plan because EPA exceeded its legal authority in crafting the policy. The rule, which has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, established a program under which states could achieve emissions reductions by having utilities promote energy efficiency or build renewable power projects such as solar or wind.

States and utility companies are suing the government over the constitutionality of the rule, and the Supreme Court found enough merit in their claims to stop its implementation until the legal issue is resolved.  In other words, the Obama rule is not currently in operation and could very well never be allowed by the courts.

In other words, the Washington Post’s article and, especially, the Providence Journal’s headline appear to be part of the mainstream media’s effort to preserve policies that the Obama administration implemented autocratically, without following the process by which our representative democracy allows us to govern ourselves, even by dishonest means.


Michael Riley: Rhode Island May Have Dodged a Bullet, No Thanks to Our Treasurer

In assessing the effort to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, it is important to review the role of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The state treasurer was asked to analyze the costs and opine on affordability, as would be expected with a large borrowing like this. Mr. Magaziner opined in October 2017 and in June 2018 as numbers changed along with the terms of the deal and then opined again recently, finally giving a nod to the deal.

But what everyone needs to know is that $350 million dollars in debt for Pawtucket’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for former employees was not used in his analysis. This is more than twice the city’s pension debt! In fact, it was purposely left out by Magaziner. Including OPEB debt would obviously have made the City of Pawtucket’s borrowing look dangerous and ill-conceived. Ignoring OPEB allowed for an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars by the treasurer.

Think about it.  Seth Magaziner violated his own risk recommendations by hiding a liability in his analysis; this is the type of stuff they did with 38 Studios. Mr. Magaziner owes it to taxpayers to lay all the cards on the table and not to fall in line with political winds. Had he actually laid the cards on the table, looked at all the debt, and been transparent and honest, the PawSox deal would appropriately have never seen the light of day.

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As can be seen in the comprehensive Debt Affordability Study, Pawtucket already exceeds Magaziner’s limits for debt, along with Woonsocket and Providence, before even considering borrowing for the new stadium or the $350 million in OPEB liability, which the board is to reconsider as a component next year. This $350 million is so significant and overwhelming, it would be irresponsible for any treasurer to think Pawtucket absorbing new debt was a good idea.


Mike Riley, an investment professional, is on the board of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and is running for the office of Rhode Island General Treasurer.


Once More, With Feeling: Campaign Finance Doesn’t Supersede the Constitution

Here we go again, with another use of campaign finance law to manufacture a controversy at the expense of the First Amendment:

Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung promoted his candidacy on an hourlong radio infomercial that’s hosted by a lobbyist for the trucking industry, and campaign records reviewed by The Associated Press show he failed to report the donation of radio air time.

The failure is likely to have violated campaign finance law, according to the good government group Common Cause.

Fung appeared Aug. 4 on the show “Changing Gears,” which is hosted by Chris Maxwell, a registered lobbyist who is CEO of the industry group the Rhode Island Trucking Association, and Michael Collins, of M&D Transportation, a trucking company. The show airs Saturdays on WPRO-AM, one of Rhode Island’s main news radio stations, but the show opens with a disclaimer that makes clear it is paid programming and not news.

The Associated Press can call this an “infomercial,” but that’s misleading.  This is an alternate business model for radio shows, wherein the host pays for a regular period of time and, if he or she desires, covers that expense with advertising.  Infomercials are just extended advertisements for a product.

Appearing on “Changing Gears” is no less covered by the First Amendment than appearing on a radio show with, say, Dan Yorke and cannot be treated differently just because that the hosts aren’t paid directly by the radio station. Paid radio hosts and journalist are not a privileged class deserving of special treatment when it comes to their speech.

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To amplify the point, here’s one of Fung’s primary opponents, Patricia Morgan on Dan Yorke, appearing with a person a chicken costume in order to mock Fung.

In yesterday’s WPRO debate for the Republican candidates, they actually put Allan Fung’s name on an empty chair with a micorophone, which could easily be construed as negative advertising, criticizing the candidate for not appearing in the debate.  This is all well and good (and, for the record, I agree that Fung should have participated in the debate and should be more readily available, generally).

It is not, however, constitutionally different from the hosts of a paid timeslot having on a candidate as a guest.  If somebody would like to argue that reporting the value of airtime is not a limit or restriction on speech, then it should be applied to all forms of media.

For practical and principled reasons, though, the better solution is to stop attempting to corral people’s free speech.  That will include, in part, giving up our belief that people are too dumb to learn how to assess the credibility of their sources of information.


July 2018 Employment: Strong Economy Lifting RI… at a Discount

National employment growth continues to be strong, and Rhode Island is benefiting from that tide.  The increase in the number of Rhode Islanders who say that they are employed, from June to July, was 1,791, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The labor force grew 1,067, and the two numbers together give the Ocean State an improved unemployment rate of 4.2%.



Over the years, these monthly reports have also given the unemployment rate imagining that so many Rhode Islanders hadn’t stopped looking for work after the Great Recession.  Because that number is constant, employment increases have larger effects on the unemployment rate, and this month, the unemployment rate would have dropped from 6.6% to 6.3%.



The first hint that this good news could be better comes with a comparison with Massachusetts.  Although Rhode Island’s growth has been better than Connecticut’s (which is still higher when compared to the days before the recession), Massachusetts employment growth is literally off the charts… this chart, anyway:



This contrast is deepened when we acknowledge that Rhode Island is still toward the back of the pack, among just a dozen states that have not yet regained all of their lost employment.



To return to a positive view, though, it’s worth noting that if the number of new jobs based in Rhode Island continues to increase at its current rate, we could return to, or even exceed, the growth rate we were experiencing before the start of 2016.



The last chart for this monthly report shows New England states’ positions on the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI).  JOI takes into account 12 data points, including these employment and jobs numbers as well as income, taxes, and welfare, and it finds Rhode Island to be 47th in the country.

All of the new data, this month, came from the BLS (all positive), except for the number of people enrolled in Medicaid, which presented a slightly negative picture.

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Questioning a “Safe Space” for Men

The College Fix reports on what appears to be an implicitly self contradictory (which is to say, dishonest) attack on masculinity at Brown University:

A program at the Ivy League institution provides “safe spaces for men to unpack all of the things they have learned about masculinity and what it means to be a man,” according to its website.

“Rigid definitions of masculinity are toxic to men’s health,” campus officials state online under the heading: “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity.”

“Men will often resort to violence to resolve conflict because anger is the only emotion that they have been socialized to express,” the website states. “Unfortunately, the way that young men are conditioned to view sex and their need to be dominant and have power over others also contribute to instances of sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence on college campuses.”

It’s been a while since I was part of a campus community, so maybe I’m missing the nuances of “safe spaces,” but I’m not sure how the term could cover a space in which one is explicitly identified as “toxic.”  Are the safe spaces provided to other identity groups similarly characterized by the safety to talk about what’s wrong with members of the group?  That seems more like a “hostile space.”

Indeed, spend some time clicking through the texts and videos associated with this program, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anybody who exhibits a sense of safety in acknowledging something like, “I’m strong and competitive, and all of these other guys talking about how masculinity means being cold, calculating, and distant just aren’t describing a reality that matches the society that I’ve experienced.”  Even a video of a young woman (who appears to present as a young man) tells the story of her toxic masculinity when she hit her brother for telling her she looked pretty.

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In other words, it’s all play acting and virtue signaling, and there’s nothing really new, here.  The lesson that is pushed ad nauseam is basically:  People shouldn’t be jerks, and “jerk” and “masculine man” are basically synonyms.

By that definition, the most masculine people in the world would have to be the authorities pushing this nonsense on young impressionable men and women, and that clearly isn’t correct.


Raimondo’s Debt and the Strong Economy

In early July, we reported that the first RhodeWorks tolls were performing as projected, which the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT) promoted as a positive sign.  However, this may be another area in which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is indebted to Republican President Donald Trump:

The transportation sector is a reflection of the goods-based economy in the US. Demand has been blistering across all modes of transportation. Freight shipment volume (not pricing… we’ll get to pricing in a moment) by truck, rail, air, and barge, according to the Cass Freight Index jumped 10.6% in July compared to a year earlier. This pushed the index, which is not seasonally adjusted, to its highest level for July since 2007.

The dynamics in the transportation sector are “clearly signaling that the US economy, at least for now, is ignoring all of the angst coming out of Washington D.C. about the trade wars,” the report by Cass said.

Things are just easier when the economy is strong… even bad government.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: The WooSox Debate the Chicken

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, about the merits of a political system that lost the PawSox and the wisdom of debating chickens.

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I’ll be on again Monday, August 27, at 1:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Abuse and Statutes of Limitation: Keeping Our Hands on the Guardrails of Values and Justice

Rhode Islanders should wish that Republican state representative Brian Newberry (North Smithfield, Burrillville) was expressing the opinion of most elected officials with his statement on the idea of retroactively removing the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to sexual abuse of minors:

State Rep. Brian Newberry, a lawyer and former House minority leader, said Ruggerio’s concerns had merit. He tweeted: “Insurance issues in situations like this should not be overlooked. Without [statutes of limitations] insurance costs skyrocket and/or options become scarce. Goes well beyond this specific situation. Willingness of government to ‘alter the deal’ sends its own signal.”

We rightly recoil from the thought of child abuse, and the possibility of its lifelong harm to victims makes a strong case for allowing civil action for more than seven years.   However, insurance premiums are just a straightforward example of the ways in which the “willingness of government to ‘alter the deal'” can disrupt society.  Obviously, this isn’t to say that the disturbed people who’ve abused children made rational decisions based on the law at the time, but social standards change constantly, and the knowledge that a legislature might apply future standards to actions we’ve taken in the past should be terrifying.

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The subsequent direction of Ted Nesi’s WPRI article further illustrates how easily reasoned consideration of legal principles can fall away when these emotional chords are struck:

Passing legislation was not the only demand made at Monday’s news conference. Speakers also called for the attorney general to open a grand-jury investigation into the Providence diocese along the lines of what was done in Pennsylvania.

Democrat Peter Neronha – the favorite to succeed Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in January – said in a statement he supports extending the statute of limitations …

However, Neronha pointed out that Pennsylvania’s attorney general has a tool that Rhode Island’s attorney general does not: a state law which allows a grand jury to issue a report even when no criminal indictment is issued.

“I have long believed that such a statute should exist in Rhode Island, and it would assist the type of investigation called for here,” he said. “Absent such a statute, under current Rhode Island law, absent an indictment, it is very likely that the findings and any recommendations of the grand jury could not be released publicly.”

There may be sufficient evidence to initiate a grand jury investigation, but the simple co-religiosity of the Rhode Island Catholic Church with the Pennsylvania Catholic Church is insufficient.  Beyond this missing piece, Neronha is implying that such investigations would be less valuable without the ability to release findings even where no indictable discoveries.  The circumstances in which grand jury reports ought to be public documents is a question worthy of public debate, but we should hesitate to change the law explicitly in order to give the government a way to create scandal as a last ditch punishment.  Nerhonha’s assessment suggests one of two things:

  1. A desire to dig up dirt on a politically disfavored organization, or
  2. A back-door way to evade the intent of the law (with statutes of limitation).

By all means, let’s develop a legal regime that reflects our values and ensures justice, but as we do so, let’s not allow the emotions of a particular issue to undermine the value of due process and lead us to broader injustices.