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What’s in… What’s out… 8/23/19

What’s in…

1. The RI Education Commissioner … isn’t pleased with the condition of the Providence schools.  With just two weeks till schools open, Angelica Infante-Green told the Providence Journal on Wednesday this: “I’m already disappointed with what we found yesterday … It’s not up to my standards. It’s not as clean as we expected, and the physical condition is worse than what people have reported. The conversations are going to be very difficult.”

The education commissioner has stated that she is doing what she can from the outside. This sounds like she is trying to work with her hands tied. She admits she hasn’t fully taken over the Providence school district, yet. This is one of those times when one has to say “Lead or get out of the way.” We all wish the commissioner well, but at some point, she will have to take hold of the pirate ship and navigate it into safety.

2. Dancing with the Stars. On Wednesday morning’s Good Morning America, ABC announced that Sean Spicer will be among the 12 celebrities appearing in this season’s reality show, Dancing with the Stars.  Spicer, former White House press secretary, won’t be the only Rhode Islander to join the dance show. He’ll be joined by former University of Rhode Island basketball star Lamar Odom.  Let’s see how they dance themselves out of this one.

3. Airport inquiry. State Senator Samuel Bell, a Providence Democrat, is asking about recent announcements made by the Airport Corporation, which said Tuesday that Norwegian Air is leaving T.F. Green Airport after only two years. Bell said this raises questions about choices made by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation management.  There have been other routes cut, too, which Senator Bell feels merit an inquiry into decisions made by the Airport Corporation.

What’s out….

1. Those Jump Bikes … are jumping all over the place.  Uber is temporarily removing its dockless e-bikes from Providence following reports of criminal misuse, vandalism, and robberies.  By pulling the bikes, Uber and the Providence Police hope to locate and retrieve stolen bikes. This whole Jump bike program is out of control.  The program needs to be revamped in a way where the bikes cannot be left all over our neighborhoods and used for criminal activities. No report on what happens to the violators who are stealing these bikes or robbing people while using them.  Inquiring minds want to know about that.

2. Club Flow.  Another Providence night club that had a shooting this week has agreed to stay closed throughout the weekend.  The club’s attorney, Nicholas Hemond, said it will remain closed until the gunman is caught. Hemond also represents Club Seven, which was the scene of the fatal stabbing in Federal Hill.  He is also chairman of the Providence School Board.

3. Linc isn’t missing anymore.  For those of you who have wondered where Lincoln Chaffee has been, don’t fret.  He’s back.  Chaffee has confirmed that he told The Daily Beast that he is considering a 2020 run for President as the Libertarian Party nominee. The former governor never fails to surprise us with his announcements. 


Featured image by Dave Amadio.


Felonious Dark Humor from Teenagers

An Associated Press story on WPRI’s Web site raises two questions:

A Florida teenager faces a felony charge after getting so fed up with her little sister’s noisy phone that she threatened to shoot up a school. …

The teen told investigators she was so annoyed by the sounds from a sixth-grade group chat that she took her sister’s phone and wrote: “Next person to say something is the first person I will shoot on the school shooting that will take place this Friday.”

The police have officially determined that the 16-year-old does not actually have any plans for a school shooting.  While we can all be grateful for that, one must wonder:  Isn’t felony sarcasm a bit of an extreme charge in response to teenagers’ famously poor judgment?

A second question follows on that one:  Should we really want children to internalize the idea that just mentioning a school shooting is a major crime?  It seems to me that we’d want the threats to be made so that they could be quickly investigated, not only to determine whether there’s an actual threat, but also to discover whether the teenager needs help.


A Problem of Basic Operations in Local Government

Earlier this week, I noted Dan McGowan’s Boston Globe fact check of some claims that have been made about Providence schools.  Some of them are especially useful in that they help to point the way to an underlying problem.  This one stands out in particular (italics added):

It is “next to impossible to remove bad teachers from schools.”

Grade: B

The researchers said “administrators and some teachers” made this claim, and Elorza has cited the difficulty of removing “terrible teachers” as one the reasons he supports the state’s plan to take over the district. One example that backs up this claim is that educators receive tenure after three years on the job. But Calabro, the union president, has pushed back. “The union doesn’t hire teachers and we don’t fire teachers,” she often reminds reporters. It’s her way of pointing out that if administrators properly document the reasons why a teacher should be fired, the termination process is not as tedious. “But every time this goes to a hearing, the arbitrator asks, ‘What does their evaluation say?’ ” Calabro said. “If the answer is ‘highly effective,’ then yes, it’s hard to fire them.”

From my experience in local government, I can attest that this really is a problem.  Important incidents and information are rarely placed in employees’ files.  Their performance reviews tend to present them as excellent employees… right up to the point that their poor performance (or, sometimes, illegal activity) can no longer be denied.  In a sense, there are two sets of books:  what everybody knows to be true, and what is actually documented.

The reasons this might especially be a problem in government operations are various and not simple.  Most fundamental are the incentives.  In a non-union, private-sector environment, organizational efficiency is more a matter of survival and everybody can be easily replaced for poor performance, which makes the incentives stronger to identify problems and to document them so as not to be blamed for them.

The incentives of government operations are very different.  The environment’s political nature always makes it an attractive option not to make waves.  Blame is also easier to shift off of anybody in particular and onto processes or abstractions, just like the complaint that “terrible teachers” are impossible to get rid of.  Nobody seems to own the responsibility for allowing that to be the case — or at least nobody in office at the time the problem rears its head.

Of course, politically active labor unions play a massive role in making the system function like this.  They help elect people who will tilt the balance in favor of their members.  They work to foster a narrative that presents all government officials and employees as engaged in “public service,” rather than remunerative employment.  They create the sense that grievances and reprisals are always an option if management wields too strong of a hand.

All of this exists in the plain reality that people who are elected by the general public will keep their positions for reasons that might have nothing to do with how well the government provides its services.  That is especially true now that we use government to settle cultural disputes and choose winners in social battles.

There may be no solution that does not address this civic excess.  We should limit government’s activities as much as possible to those for which evaluation is straightforward and that come with their own healthy incentives.  In the case of the military, for example, the cost of poor operation can be death.  In the case of infrastructure, crumbling roads are easy to see.

In the meantime, elected officials have to implement policies requiring documentation and make sure that they are followed.  That’s not a very flashy accomplishment to bring to voters, and it can unsettle people who are used to the way things have been done.  The payoff is a long-term sense that things run well under that official, but to get there, he or she must survive relentless challenges.

In other words, time spent on the basics of operations gives an official little to show in the short term and makes him or her a target for constant political attack… which I can also attest from experience.


School Policies Create a Parent’s Transgender Nightmare

Those of us who worried about the Rhode Island Department of Education’s transgender “guidance” (which quickly became a mandatory regulation) were especially concerned about the provisions encouraging schools to help students “transition” while hiding it from their parents:

… for children as young, presumably, as 14, the school may actively conspire with the student in hiding from his or her parents an issue that is supposedly central to their child’s very being.  In the next paragraph, the “family” is reduced to inclusion only as a parenthetical note, and the school is tasked with discussing “a timeline for the transition in order to create the conditions to provide a safe and supportive environment at the school.”

That is, through its schools, the government is not only seeking to accommodate the challenges of students’ personal lives to the extent necessary to accomplish the primary objective of educating them, but to become actively involved in transforming children’s beliefs and identities — perhaps including irreversible changes to their very bodies.

A recent essay by Jay Keck, an Illinois father whose autism-spectrum daughter declared her own transgenderism after becoming friends with another girl who had already done so, describes how extreme this can get:

She first came out as transgender to her school, and when she announced that she was a boy, the faculty and staff — who had full knowledge of her mental health challenges — affirmed her. Without telling me or my wife, they referred to her by her new name. They treated my daughter as if she were a boy, using male pronouns and giving her access to a gender neutral restroom. …

In an IEP meeting just after she told us about being a boy, I told the school that our wishes are to call her by her legal name at all times. The social worker present at the meeting stated that we have that right to make that request, so I assumed school staff would follow our directive. I followed up that meeting with an email, but later learned that my request was ignored and school staff continued to refer to her by the male name. …

My daughter told me that the school social worker was advising her about halfway houses because he thought we did not support her. The social worker confirmed this when I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss it. This felt like a horrifying attempt to encourage our daughter to run away from home.

We had our daughter evaluated by a psychologist approved by the school district. He told us that it was very clear that our daughter’s sudden transgender identity was driven by her underlying mental health conditions, but would only share his thoughts off the record because he feared the potential backlash he would receive. In the report he submitted to us and the school, he did not include these concerns that he would only share in person.

Why might the psychologist do that?  Well, it can’t help that Illinois (like Rhode Island) has a “conversion therapy” ban.  Even if a professional concludes that a child’s parents are correct that transgender feelings are incidental to some other problem, the doctor cannot try to resolve them.  As Keck indicates, this ban can prevent any correction even as a public school system ushers a child toward irreversible changes to his or her body.

This is madness.  And in keeping with the theme, it seems as if people feel they cannot express doubts about the movement.


The Target of an Ethics Investigation

It isn’t mere pedantry to see something conspicuously off about the Providence Journal headline, “Ethics Commission to probe GOP ethics complaint vs. Raimondo, IGT.”  The Boston Globe might be slightly better inasmuch as it leaves the GOP out of the headline, with “State Ethics Commission to investigate complaint against Governor Raimondo.”

The problem, of course, is that the commission is investigating the governor, not the GOP or its complaint.  As WPRI correctly puts it, “Ethics Commission to investigate Raimondo over IGT deal“:

The R.I. Ethics Commission on Tuesday voted to open a formal investigation into Gov. Gina Raimondo’s dealings with gaming giant IGT in response to a complaint filed by the state Republican Party.

The GOP alleged that Raimondo violated the state ethics code by negotiating a proposed 20-year extension of IGT’s state contact to run lottery and casino games. The Republicans cited Raimondo’s relationship with Don Sweitzer, IGT’s former chairman and current lobbyist, who was tapped by the governor to be treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association. Raimondo is the current chair of the national group.

Tuesday’s vote was an initial step based on the facts put forward by the GOP. “The decision to investigate does not address the validity of the complaint; rather, it merely indicates that the allegations properly fall under the provisions of the Code of Ethics,” the commission’s website says. “Neither the complainant nor the respondent participates in the initial determination.”

This is the sort of detail that used to give conservatives the impression of media bias back in the days before it was open and explicit.  Whether it’s deliberate or an indication of the mental tics of the editors, errors or ambiguous language unfailingly makes it more likely to think the conservative or Republican side of dispute has done something unseemly, rather than the other way around.


A Challenge to Whitehouse’s Banana-Republic Legal Principles

Judicial Watch, which describes itself as “a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation,” has filed a complaint against U.S. Senator and Rhode Island resident Sheldon Whitehouse:

Senator Whitehouse’s filing of a brief on behalf of clients without an active law license anywhere in the country is inexcusable. Senator Whitehouse’s attack on the federal judiciary and open threat to the U.S. Supreme Court raises substantial questions about his character and fitness to practice law. His actions warrant a full investigation by the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee.

At issue is an amicus curiae brief that Whitehouse filed as “counsel of record,” along with three other Democrat Senators in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York.  

While we should be generally wary of efforts to limit participation in politically fraught legal debates only to people who happen to be lawyers, Judicial Watch makes an important distinction: “It is one thing for a politician to make such a claim [attacking the Supreme Court] on the campaign trail, it is another for a lawyer to make such a charge as part of a legal proceeding.”  That is, Whitehouse is the one choosing to blur the line between politics and legal debate.

Frankly, his method makes a mockery of both.  Take this cheeky bit of legal gamesmanship:

The judiciary was not intended to settle hypothetical disagreements. The Framers designed Article III courts to adjudicate actual controversies brought by plaintiffs who suffer real-world harm. This reflects the Framers’ intent that the judiciary “may truly be said to have neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, 464 (C. Rossiter ed. 2003) (A. Hamilton) (capitalization altered).

The rationale for this long-settled principle is simple: “this Court is not a legislature.” Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2611 (2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). “It can be tempting for judges to confuse [their] own preferences with the requirements of the law,” id. at 2612, and to legislate political outcomes from the bench. But a judge “is not a knight-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness.” Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process 141 (Yale Univ. Press 1921). Accordingly, justiciability doctrines, such as standing and mootness, have evolved to serve as an “apolitical limitation on judicial power,” confining the courts to their constitutionally prescribed lane. John G. Roberts, Jr., Article III Limits on Statutory Standing, 42 Duke L.J. 1219, 1230 (1993). In short, courts do not undertake political “projects.” Or at least they should not.

If you miss the cheek, it might be helpful to know that Obergefell v. Hodges was the case in which the Supreme Court redefined marriage to exclude the sex of the members as a criterion.  Whitehouse’s written interrogation of a Christian nominee for a judgeship gives the strong impression that the Senator supports the decision in Obergefell.  For Whitehouse to cite the chief justice’s dissent in that case, which suggests that the court was acting as a legislature, is a deep, callous sort of cynicism.

However much plausible deniability Senator Whitehouse may have left himself, his principles (if they can be called such) are clear:  The Supreme Court can only behave as a legislature when he agrees with what it is doing.  This banana-republic view of our system of laws may or may not be disqualifying for a lawyer, but it ought to be disqualifying for a senator.


Remembering When Providence Was One of America’s Safest Cities

I remember a time when Providence was once considered one of the safest cities in America.

I remember advertisements touting that phrase, “Providence,  the safest city in America.” It all seems like a dream now, something that was far, far away.

It seems like you can’t turn on the television news without hearing of gunshots, shootings, stabbings, and some kind of violence.  How sad this is for our city of Providence we all love.  Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island.  It is the anchor city of our state, the anchor that should be holding steady to keep the rest of our state together.

It is the home to approximately 178,000 people of diverse heritages and cultures. Each of its 39 constituent neighborhoods is full of its own landmarks, customs and unique history. Much of the housing was built prior to World War II, making Providence one of the older and most historic cities in the country.

During the 2014 campaign for Mayor of Providence, Candidate Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was quoted during a television debate as follows: “When I was mayor, Providence was one of the five Renaissance cities of America, according to USA Today in those days.  Money magazine said it was the fifth best city to live in in America.  In addition to that, All Cities Almanac said in 1994, I believe , that it was the safest city in America.”  This quote was ruled true by a Providence Journal PolitiFact article written by Alex Kuffner on October 2, 2014.

As a lifelong Providence resident, I have always felt safe.  But the times are changing and there is reason for concern. 

I don’t want to hear that the crime rate goes up in the summer months or that these  are isolated incidents, because that doesn’t make any of us feel better. I’m saddened when I tell people I live in Providence and they respond with the comment, ” I use to live in Providence, but I moved out, it’s too violent now. It’s changed.” 

The fact is when you talk to many Rhode Islanders they will tell  you  that their roots stemmed from Providence.  They will tell you they grew up in Federal Hill, Mt. Pleasant, Smith Hill, Silver Lake, North End, or the  South Side, etc.  Providence was  like a big old oak tree, and its tree  branches consisted of  many neighborhoods our ancestors lived in, labored in, and built with their blood, sweat, and tears.  

The police have their hands full, and now isn’t the time to be understaffed.  It’s a critical task  that Mayor Elorza has before him.  This must be a priority, ahead of bike paths, street islands, and festivals.  I must admit there was a time when I felt Providence was safe and didn’t think twice about being safe on our city streets.  But that feeling has changed for many of us as we have to stop, look, and listen to our surroundings now.

On Thursday afternoon, a group of about 100 teenagers were reportedly riding through the city on mostly “Jump bikes” terrorizing residents.  They were banging on cars to set off alarms, riding through neighborhoods, assaulting residents, and creating havoc. This plan was allegedly organized on Facebook and called “Rideout” where the teens met in Kennedy Plaza and stole Jump bikes in an organized terror ride.  How outrageous is this? 

I don’t want to hear that they are boys behaving badly.  It’s fun and games for them, until someone gets  hurt. The Jump bikes have become prey for thieves and vandalism, clearly not what they were intended for.

This incident was organized on Facebook and planned.  Who are these teens? Are they gang members who are trying to take over our neighborhoods?  This has to stop. There are advocates out there working with the local youth and  they are trying to help.  But even they do not have all the answers to a problem that is growing and becoming more frequent in our neighborhoods.

We as Rhode Islanders have a lot to lose.  What starts in Providence usually ends up in other cities and towns.  Our city of Providence is also the home to many fine restaurants, businesses, and opportunities that start the economic engine in our state.  We need people to feel safe so that they will come to our city to enjoy seeing a show at Providence Performing Arts Center and then dining at one of the fine restaurants in Federal Hill or shopping in one of the many neighborhood markets.0

We need people to feel safe so they will continue to send their children to college here, where we host some of the finest colleges and universities  in the country.  Whether it be Brown University, Providence College, Johnson and Wales, Rhode Island School of Design, or Rhode Island College, we are proud that Providence has always been known as a college town with thousands of students coming here from all over the world.

It’s not in Providence’s or Rhode Island’s best interest for Providence to be rumored as unsafe or violent.  The responsibility for change falls upon all of us. There is something we can all do to try to stop the violence.

One thing that can be done is to fully cooperate with law enforcement.  If you see something wrong or suspect fowl play, report it to police. Don’t bury your head in the sand.  Respect our law enforcement because they will need that respect to do their jobs and protect our communities.  

Attend neighborhood forums and meetings to discuss your concerns and fears about your neighborhood and street.  Inform your local elected officials that you want to see their updates on crime statistics in your neighborhood and ask what they are doing to stay on top of the issue.

If you have time, volunteer at a youth community recreation center as a coach or recreation worker for the summer months.

Also, get to know your local council person or legislator and ask what progress is being made to ensure safe streets and safe schools.  These are simple tasks but important ones. 

I love my city of Providence as my parents, grandparents, and ancestors did.  They settled their roots in Providence to ensure a good, safe life for their children and each other.  We owe it to them to preserve the past and pave the way for the future by getting involved in our neighborhoods.

The future of Providence depends on the involvement of the whole community to speak up and pay attention.  We cannot let the thugs and gangs destroy what our ancestors built here to ensure the American Dream.  It’s our duty.  It’s our right.  It’s our neighborhoods.


Featured image by Dave Amadio.


Continuing Education for Professionals

Dan McGowan’s review of some claims that have recently been made about problems in the Providence school district is worth a read.  Broadly speaking, the claims about the school facilities themselves proved to have been exaggerated, while problems with management of teachers were not so much.

This item raises something that I’ve wondered about before — specifically, how much emphasis people really put on “professional development”:

Teachers get one day of professional development a year.

Grade: C

During a series of public forums following the release of the report, Infante-Green often asked attendees the same question: Would you go to a doctor who only received one day of training each year? While it is accurate that the current union contract only requires one professional development day during the school year, more nuance is required. Union president Maribeth Calabro and the Elorza administration maintain most teachers receive significantly more training each year. As an example, Calabro said at least half of her members have attended professional development sessions during their current summer vacation.

To be honest, I’d have no problem discovering that my doctor has only “one day of training each year.”  Doctors spend every day analyzing patients and determining the best treatments for their ailments.  One can expect that they are continually reviewing the latest information that might help them to do their jobs better.

The idea that they’ll simply coast along for their entire careers — doing the equivalent of handing out photocopied worksheets year after year — just seems strange.  Some will be better about this and some will be worse, but the fact that a doctor dedicated more than one day to some government-approved course of study that may or may not be relevant to my health and that may or may not have focused on some medical fad or PC indoctrination would not impress me at all.

So the question, then, is why we shouldn’t expect the same from teachers.  They have a 180-day work year.  Why should we assume that if we don’t use up some of those days for “professional development” instead of teaching, they’ll just let their skills atrophy and knowledge become antiquated?


Featured image: The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes (1891).


Bright Today Educational Freedom Scholarships To Counter Collective Bargaining Inequities

At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism. People have lost trust in their government and are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater to special interests like the teacher’s union bosses, and who make it harder to live and take care of their families – and to continue to reside in Rhode Island.

Piggie Bank Gov Unions

With a serious educational crisis in the Ocean State, no child should have to wait for tomorrow’s reform promises. School choice creates new educational opportunities for families.

Our Bright Today educational freedom scholarship idea can actually save money for Rhode Islanders. If the outflow of scholarship funds is less than the cost burdens associated with educating those students, then districts will actually save money.

Indeed, Rhode Island needs a new way of thinking if our state is to prosper. There are proven free-market reforms that can and will work, if only the political class will listen. It is up to each of us to change the status quo thinking.


The Best Way to Ensure a Long-Term Morality

My post this morning, about the incentive for those who rely on Minnesota trees to ensure the long-term health of Minnesota forests, came right up to the edge of a much bigger topic.  The most-important factor guarding humanity against the tragedy of the commons — wherein individuals use up natural resources because the incentive to preserve never outweighs the incentive to profit for any one person — is that the human beings involved think forward to the future beyond their own personal needs and desires.

As I wrote earlier, we can expect people not to poison their own well, so to speak, by destroying the resources on which they rely, but only within a certain range.  If the activity (like cutting down trees) is relatively difficult and the people able or willing to do it are relatively few, it is more likely they’ll collectively recognize their long-term incentives.  If something is easy to do and many people are doing it, then it is less likely that they’ll delay immediate profit for longer-term stability, because somebody else can come along and edge in.

Obviously, it also matters how far into the future the players are looking.  If people are desperate to have a meal today, they’ll be more careless about the resources.  The selfish, childless businessman of progressive fantasy need only preserve the resource to the extent that he can capitalize on it.

This is where the topic expands.  A business owner who sees him or her self as building a multi-generational source of income will worry about critical resources indefinitely into the future.

That principle extrapolates beyond businesses, too.  People who are thinking about their own children and their children’s children have a living, breathing reason to figure the future into everything they do.  That is, making families and children central to personal and cultural meaning has philosophical benefits for the entire society.

This realization points an interesting light at secular progressivism, which is fundamentally anti-family in its philosophy.  When progressives find it necessary to appeal to a long-term perspective for their political advocacy, as with the environment, they have to resort either to abstractions (the good of humankind) or to a religious elevation of something else (like the planet) as an object of concern in its own right.

Neither alternative can compete with the incentives that come from love of one’s children.


The Once-ler Protects His Long-Term Interests

As part of a series called “Capitalism Is Saving the Planet,” Isaac Orr reviews the forestry industry in Minnesota for the Center of the American Experiment:

Did you know that Minnesota’s forests are flourishing? According to research from the U.S. Forest Service, forests account for 17.7 million acres of land in Minnesota out of a total of 54 million acres, meaning forest cover about 35 percent of the state. Furthermore, this number is increasing due in no small part to the fact that 51 percent of forested land in Minnesota is owned by the timber industry.

From 2012 to 2017, Minnesota’s forested land area increased by 755,000 acres, which equates to an increase of 1.7 percent. During this time, the number of live trees increased by one billion trees, increasing from 14 billion to 15 billion, which is a 7.1 percent increase in the number of trees in our state.

The image of the industrialist Once-ler denuding the world of Truffula trees for his own selfish gain does not appear to apply.  The companies are trying to balance their profits with preservation, utilizing new technologies and techniques to be more efficient.

The forestry industry has incentive to preserve the resource on which it depends.  So, even if we disregard people’s sense of right and wrong (which we shouldn’t do), self-interest is not divorced from reason.  Just so, workers who come into your home have incentive not to steal from you because the long-term benefit of trustworthiness is more valuable than just about anything in your house.

We should recognize, however, that all of this may apply only in a limited range of economic activity.  Cutting down and milling trees is a relatively difficult activity, so the barriers to entry are high, the participants relatively few, and the cutting relatively easy to track and regulate (whether through government or industrial practice).  In circumstances in which the profits are high and the players many, the tragedy of the commons will be more likely.

In other words, what this case study does most effectively is to remind us of the danger of blanket analyses and categorical thinking.  A moralistic children’s story can create a humanoid monster willing to destroy the planet for just a little profit, but we shouldn’t apply him for cookie cutter analysis of every business.


Gender Chicken and Occupation Egg on Opiate Overdoses

This, as reported by Kim Kalunian on WPRI,, should not be surprising:

The Rhode Island Department of Health has found that construction workers make up nearly a quarter of all fatal opioid overdose victims in the state.

The data was collected from July 2016 to June 2018 and found those in the natural resources, construction and maintenance occupation category — trades like plumbers, fishermen and carpenters — had a much higher rate of opioid-involved overdose death.

Whereas other industries hovered around 40 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 workers, those in construction fields came in more than four times that, at 177.  Something is oddly missing from the article, though:  any mention mention that 95% of workers in the relevant occupations are men.  Even more:  the construction/extraction subcategory accounted for 74% of the deaths within the natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupation group, and that subcategory, is 97% male.

This could affect the analysis in two ways.  It could be — as the article strives to suggest — that construction industries produce physical pain and have a tough-it-out culture that leads to drug use and overdose.  Or it could be that, in keeping with broader investigations, men are more likely to overdose, and therefore a heavily male industry will inevitably have more.  If 80% of all overdoses are men, it isn’t surprising that an industry that is 95% male would account for a disproportionate 25% of such deaths.

So which is it?  Probably a mix, but anecdotally, I can testify that the drug-related deaths and the drug usage I encountered while a carpenter was not apparently related to pain relief.  Indeed, the highest number of overdoses occur among those aged 25-34.

It’s a shame this question isn’t more a part of the public discussion, because it’s absolutely critical.  Naturally, the union organizer quoted in the WPRI article, Michael Sabitoni, talks about the need for better benefits for workers and says his organization is “working aggressively to change the culture because it is an industry where toughness and perseverance dominate.”  The problem is that, if the maleness of the industry is more the cause than the effect of the disproportionate overdoses, then trying to make the culture of the industry more (let’s be honest) feminine might make matters worse.

There is a balance to be struck.  One carpenter I worked with would periodically carry an entire bundle of 2x6s across the job site just to see if he could.  I once installed a large steel beam by myself for the same reason.  Take the opportunity for “toughness and perseverance” out of the job, and we may find that the men feel more, not less, of whatever it is that’s leading them to take drugs.  That is, maybe the drugs are relief from a different kind of pain than the physical aches that (to be honest) a lot of guys are proud to have earned.


What’s in… What’s out… #WaterFire,#Sharks, #TwinRiver, and more. 8/16/19

What’s in…

1. WaterFire Lightning this Saturday! Let the fires glow! A full basin WaterFire takes place this Saturday at dusk. It’s part of the Summer of Science Series.  The TechFire Job Fair opens at 6:00 p.m. This fair will feature Rhode Island’s technology community and the effects it has had on RI. The job fair will feature established and new companies that are hiring in Rhode Island.  Fires are lit ’till midnight. Enjoy! For more information check

2. Shark! Did someone say “shark”?  Due to an increase in shark sightings in Cape Cod and RI this summer, Cape Cod National Seashore officials have denied a permit for the 32nd annual Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla. Officials feel that  starting the race off Long Point Beach in Provincetown would be a risk. The September 7th race will be rerouted closer to shore  for the safety of participants.

3. Let’s play ball! Barrington Little Leaguers are on  their way to the World Series in Virginia, but not without controversy.  The New Hampshire Little League team made an accusation against the Barrington team of cheating.  This was all cleared in the field at the tournament, but the New Hampshire team leaders apparently have cried foul.  Move on all! Know how to gracefully lose and accept it! And wish the RI team well as a show of good sportsmanship! Let’s go Barrington!

What’s out…

1. The Epstein chronicles. In want promised to be a bizarre tale of sex trafficking and sexual abuse, we learn of the alleged suicide of Jeffrey Epstein.  The theories are out there!  How did this happen? Why wasn’t he on 24-hour watch? Who dropped the ball on this?

Beyond all this, there are the sad voices of the victims of this man. Let’s not lose sight of the crimes he committed against young girls and of the many he hurt. Their day in criminal court will not come, but their anguish and horrible memories will live on for years.

2. Twin River Casino revenue down, employees laid off. Sad news out of Twin River, where the opening of the new Encore casino in Boston has driven down Twin River revenue. Even sadder news for the employees who were laid off because of loss revenue. According to Ted Nesi of WPRI Eyewitness News, “Twin River is asking employees to volunteer for layoffs, according to spokesperson Patti Doyle and two employees. A memo provided by one worker asked employees to express interest by Thursday at 8 PM.”

While Twin River is busy trying to get the gaming contract away from IGT gaming giant, they have the problem of minding their own store for loss revenue.  How can Twin River, which calls itself a casino, compete with the Encore in Boston? The Encore is a Las Vegas–type  casino with all the amenities. Twin River pales in comparison.  This proves the point that if you are going to have a gaming facility, build it right.  What started off as a small gaming facility in Lincoln has had multiple renovations but has not measured up to casinos such as Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, or Encore.

It may be the time to review this situation and make some clear decisions.  Either this state wants a first class casino that can compete with the others, or it does not.  We all know RI has gone around the bush when it comes to the casino industry.  Voters have repeatedly voted against a gaming casino here, which has made Twin River have to sneak in the door a little at a time.  But the revenue from Twin River is a major source for the state budget, one the state cannot afford to lose. 

This is a major problem for the state of RI in the next year, one that needs to be addressed by Twin River and the state government.  It may be time for Twin River to put all its resources into a better casino with more amenities. That would mean concentrating on the facility they do have instead of taking on another gaming contract. 

We await to see what actions Twin River will take.  They have already hired lobbyists, averaging from $3,000 to $5,000 a month, to lobby for the contract that IGT now has.  All this is costing thousands of dollars in an expensive lobbying effort stop IGT from getting the 20 year, no bid contract.  Meanwhile, revenue is down and workers are being laid off.  Time for Twin River to concentrate on taking care of what they have, instead of looking to add on more. The ball is in your court Twin River… don’t foul!


Featured image by Dave Amadio.


Political Rorschach in the Wyatt Protest

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Steve Ahlquist’s overtly activistic coverage of yesterday’s protests at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls is as objective, or more so, than some of the headlines that an Internet search will easily produce.  Some of them, for example, are saying that a correctional officer in a pickup truck “rammed” the protesters, which is a contentious way to describe what happened, to say the least.  ABC News uses the verb “plows,” which is also not accurately descriptive.

In a similar way, much of the coverage is phrased ambiguously to make it seem as if the truck sent people to the hospital, when it appears that the hospital visits were caused by the use of pepper spray, which officers used to help disperse a crowd that had surrounded the pickup truck and was shouting, “Nazi, Nazi, you can’t hide! You support genocide!”

One of the major advantages we have, these days, is that we can view video of these events and decide for ourselves.  That limits the ability of people spinning the facts to work up masses of people who would react differently if they were acting on primary source material.  What’s fascinating, though, is that people can still essentially witness the incident and come to wildly different conclusions.  Here’s Ahlquist’s YouTube of the whole thing:

What do you see?

Attempting to be as objective as I can, what I see is protesters illegally blocking a roadway when a pickup truck comes toward them and stops, as any driver might do approaching a crowd that’s blocking a public way.  The protesters scatter in a notably dramatic way, largely clearing the path for the truck.  Another perspective shows that the only people remaining in front of the truck were some protesters standing and pounding on the hood, and the driver moved slowly forward.  As can be seen by the stance of the protester in yellow in the featured image of this post, one could reasonably suggest that they were actually prepared for the truck to move and were braced against it.

At this point, the crowd swarms around the truck shouting in the window aggressively, to the point that a protest organizer intervenes to move them back a little.  Next, correctional officers arrive on the scene and back the crowd out of the way using techniques not unlike what the protesters had been using to block the truck.  When the protesters on one side of the street offer greater resistance than on the other side, the officers use a spray to disperse them.

A list of “shouldn’t haves” can be helpful:

  • The protesters shouldn’t have blocked the road.
  • The City of Central Falls shouldn’t have (pretended) not to know this was coming and should have been prepared to prevent that blockage, rather than creating a conspicuous delay.
  • The truck driver shouldn’t have moved forward once protesters made clear they were not going to move from in front of his vehicle.
  • The protesters shouldn’t have blocked the vehicle, pounded on it, or surrounded it and shouted “Nazi” at the driver.
  • Although I haven’t found a camera angle that gives me complete confidence in this, the officers probably shouldn’t have used pepper spray.

But now, the protesters have the footage they wanted and will continue to work to capitalize on it.  Future protesters, seeing the advantage, will look to repeat the process.

The disappointing part is that if we were to trace this down to the individual people involved, we could find sympathy for them (a few agitators, like Aaron Regunberg aside) and look for ways to reduce the level of conflict in our society.  As a matter of fact, reducing such conflicts is what our system of participatory government is supposed to do.

Unfortunately, that system isn’t producing precisely what the protesters want, so they’re forcing conflict and division in order to get a different result.


Looking to the Data on Gun Control

Leah Libresco’s Washington Post commentary on gun control is worth a read, not only for information on that specific issue, but also for some perspective on how political issues should be considered:

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

One often gets the impression that the motivation for gun laws really is an assertion of power over the types of people who own them.  Another motivation often seems to be a personal sense of having done something about some tragic event by passing new laws, which shouldn’t outweigh the rights of others.

The key quality of Libresco’s thinking is that she apparently began by asking what her objective was and then measuring possible solutions.  Following her lead would also allow us to weigh one objective against another.

For example, among the policies that she suggests is “identify[ing] gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures” using “an algorithm.”  This brings to mind the Community Safety Act in Providence, which places extreme limits on the lists that law enforcement can use to track gang activity.  If reducing gun violence is a critical goal, then a policy like the CSA would have a different context.

Maybe one policy wins out over another, or maybe neither makes sense, but if our public policy debates were more logically structured and more rationally conducted, at least we would be weighing pluses and minuses.  Instead, it too often seems that the arguments proceed with participants feeling that the problems and solutions are obvious and easily resolved if not for the intransigence of the other side.


A Corporatist Partnership to Solidify a Top-Down Society in RI

Corporatism is a top-down socio-political structure that divides society into groups that all act politically through their designated leaders.  In the neo-corporatist flavor, the emphasis is on tripartism, wherein the government, labor union organizers, and the business elite work together to run society.

Dan McGowan reminds us in the Boston Globe of the creep of this model into Rhode Island governance:

As aides to Governor Gina Raimondo spent the spring mulling what to do about Care New England’s planned merger with Partners Healthcare in Massachusetts and whether or not to intervene in the struggling Providence school system, they approached the same group for help.

The Partnership for Rhode Island, a little-known but influential organization comprised of 12 of the state’s most powerful executives – whose companies shell out $100,000 a year to be members – agreed to pay for a consultant to assist Care New England, along with Lifespan and Brown University, as they worked to try and establish an academic health center.

An essay I wrote in December 2016 captures the interrelationship between the Raimondo administration (including her Commerce czar), her donors, the Brookings Institution, Wexford Science and Technology, the RI Foundation, and this Partnership.  Early on, Raimondo donors funded the Brookings report that, in a sense, ratified economic policies the governor was already implementing and suggested the Partnership, and now the business elites are quietly funding policy initiatives, especially having to do with health care and education — as with the Johns Hopkins study of Providence schools.

The Partnership brings to mind something humorous RI labor union Pooh Bah George Nee told Ellen Liberman for a Rhode Island Monthly article about his occupation:

Labor leaders and historians agree that worker militancy is rising. “I think there’s a lot of very positive things happening locally and nationally, and the amount of organic activity demonstrated across the board is indicative of the fact that people have reached the point of: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore,” says George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. “People see the importance of labor. At the end of the day, unions are the major countervailing force to corporations and the power structure. If we aren’t able to fight back, who is going to do it in the workplace?”

What’s funny is that, after a legislative session that was notably friendly to labor unions, the central figure of that group would have the chutzpah to talk about a “power structure.”

Nee is the power structure, or part of it, at least, and these big-money corporate funders are another part.  Nee may continue to use the rhetoric of opposition to corporations, but I don’t see labor unions going after the Partnership, despite the fact that it’s meddling in areas of strong unionization: hospitals and schools.

The question all Rhode Islanders should ask themselves is where their vote is supposed to fit in with all of this cooperation.


Featured image: The original concept drawing of the new Wexford complex in Providence.


So, Who Likes the Soaps?

I have always like the soaps.  I admit it.  I grew up watching them with my mother.  My mom always had a reason for everything. I remember asking my mother, when I was little,  why people watch soap operas. My mom replied that “soap operas showed us different situations in life that we face and how people handle them, and sometimes they show the right way and sometime they don’t.”  Yup, that was my mom, always analyzing things in a perfect way.

My favorite soap opera was All My Children.  The mean, spoiled Erica Kane was the star of the show, always ruining it for starstruck lovers Tara and Phil. Those were the days, my friends. We had soap operas on every station.  Another World, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and Days of Our Lives were some of the daytime drama series.  My favorite over the last twenty years has been Days of Our Lives, which has been on for 50 years.

While I watched the soaps for years, I had never been to a “soapfest.” I didn’t know what it was or what to expect. Well, I found out.  It’s actually a gathering of soap opera stars to raise money for charity by appearing at a restaurant or location to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.  I was invited to this soapfest while vacationing in Florida and was amazed at the turnout.

People travel all around the country following these soap stars.  I met a woman named Susan who traveled from Idaho to Florida to go to this event. She told me in the last year she had traveled to New York, New Jersey, Maine, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to attend these gatherings.  Groupies at best, these fans are serious. Her friend Ann was from Hawaii, and they met at one of these soapfests  15 years ago. They both have been traveling ever since all over the country following these stars.

I was also amazed at the money women were bidding just to be able to dance or talk to these stars.  All monies go to charity, and I can tell you for certain the night I was there, a lot of money was raised.  Some women were bidding to play miniature golf with the soap stars because they had a miniature golf course next door.

I have to admit that I didn’t know who was who because the soap stars that night were from the Young and the Restless, which I never watch.  But I was sure surprised when I saw Patrika Darbo, who plays Nancy (Chloe’s mom) On Days of Our Lives walk in.  She was so friendly and so down to earth.  We chatted for a while and then someone bid a large amount  of money to play golf with her.


The night was a blast, and I talked with a lot of good people, shook hands and learned something new.  There’s a whole world out there of people who are making other people happy and helping charities while doing it.  Both the fans and the soap stars are superstars in my book.  Oh yeah! I’d go again.

soapfestbanner soapstarjoannegiannini-soapstar


Field Trips in a Government Monopoly

As progressivism insinuates itself more and more deeply into our society, it at least provides the benefit of clarity.

When society puts government in charge of something — education, say — people look at it within the context of their times.  An attitude of “that will never happen” underlies the decision, because all eyes are on the problem to be solved or the goal to be accomplished rather than what the community is, in fact, doing in practical terms.

Put succinctly, what the community is doing is putting another social activity under the control of the political process.  Members know the community as it exists at the time, and they know it would never do anything ridiculous like — say — eliminate all student field trips because they require families to help cover the cost and some might theoretically not be able to do so.  In Cumberland:

School officials are at least temporarily “putting the complete kibosh” on field trips for all grades above the elementary level in 2019-2020, said School Committee member Mark Fiorillo on Monday, but are hopeful of finding some solution for bringing some back in the future. …

Karen Freedman said her opinion might be an unpopular one, but if the purpose of departed Commissioner Ken Wagner’s conclusion on field trips was for inclusion of all students, “I kind of don’t like the idea of trying to skirt around it.”

Two things can go wrong as we get used to government control:  The mood of the community (or at least of the voting majority) can change in favor of the ridiculous, and the people setting public policy can make decisions that are dumb, have unintended consequences, or both.

Thus, a social institution intended to provide more opportunity for all children to learn and have enriching experiences is subject to a subtle shift in the state’s ideology.   We no longer think in terms of opportunity, but of entitlement, such that government cannot participate in anything that everybody is not entitled to receive.  If not every family cannot afford a child’s week-long field trip to Washington, D.C., then the school department cannot facilitate the trip.

Ultimately, you get what they’ve got Cumberland, where the school department is explicitly whittling its activities down only to those for which the community is willing to pay the full cost.  Families with the means to do so will plan their own (isolated) trips to educational staples, but many students will never have the experiences.


Featured image: A group photo from a certain writer’s class trip to Washington, D.C., in the ’80s.


Questions That Can’t Be Asked on Gender ID?

With Rhode Island’s governor, Democrat Gina Raimondo, decreeing that our state’s licenses will now allow a third gender option, the two most important questions about the policy are simply not being asked.  By anybody.

To begin with, let’s note a bit of sleight-of-hand in the whole thing.  Looking at my license, I see that it does not purport to tell my “gender.”  Rather, my “M” appears under the word “sex.”  That presentation means one of two things.  The first possibility is that the governor’s new licenses will switch out “sex” for “gender.”  Inasmuch as state law specifically requires applications for licenses to state the “sex,” this would be beyond the governor’s authority to do.  (Note that the state’s license applications appear to be out of compliance with state law, in this regard, using the word, “gender.”)

The second possibility is that, after years (decades?) of activists’ insisting that “sex” and “gender” are not synonymous, the progressive mandate has reversed, requiring that they are.  If this is the governor’s intent, she should be more forthcoming about it and state that she holds the more-radical view that there are actually more than two sexes.  That is the insinuation of the radicals, but they probably correctly suspect that being more explicit would crack the rhetorical illusion they’re seeking to create.

The next important question is:  Why is this information on the licenses at all?  Is the descriptive information on our driver’s licenses simply there to make us comfortable with them?  If so, I’d prefer to add a couple inches to my height and shave 10 to 15 pounds off my weight.  I also don’t like the idea of being branded as visually impaired (and therefore wearing glasses).  And yet, the application for a license requires that all of these things be attested honestly, under penalty of perjury.  Why?

The central reason, of course, is to help police officers confirm that the person operating a vehicle is, in fact, the person on the license.  Obviously, there is some variability, there, inasmuch as there is no law requiring drivers to report significant weight loss or gain, or bans on dying hair or wearing colored contact lenses, but these are questions that can be asked of drivers.  In the case of somebody who is incapacitated, a person attempting to identify the license holder can verify things like actual eye color and sex.

If this reason, or any others, are not sufficient to justify biological accuracy on our licenses, why not just get rid of the questions altogether?

Postscript: By way of a parting question that I also haven’t seen asked elsewhere, will Raimondo’s new innovation require that people marking down their gender/sex as “X” register for the draft, which is only required of males?  If not, can people unregister by changing their identification?


Featured image: The sample new license as it appeared on the RI DMV’s Web site as of this publication.


The Ocean State Current Is Growing

We’re excited to have a new writer on the Ocean State Current! 
Joanne Giannini, JFK Democrat, served as a Rhode Island state representative from Providence (District 7, Mt. Pleasant/Elmhurst) from 1994 to 2010.
She will be adding her voice to our independent nonpartisan news and commentary wing.
She has previously written commentaries for the Providence Journal, the Federal Hill Gazette, GoLocal Prov, and RI News Review.
The Current’s mission is to leverage online multimedia to ensure that a well-informed public has the breadth of information required for healthy self governance.
During her tenure in the General Assembly, she made appearances on CNN network news, Primetime news, and American Morning regarding legislation she filed in the Ocean State.
You can read her new posts by clicking the links below:
We’re always looking to add broader perspectives to the news and conservative commentary that we offer on the Current, so that many Rhode Islanders have a place to express their views. If you, or someone you know, would like to submit work to the Current, please reach out to us.

The Language of Collegiate Grit

Call me “old school,” or a fuddy-duddy, but my reaction to this story by Sarah Wu in the Boston Globe is, “Give me a break”:

Faced with mounting debt and strapped for cash, many low-income college students across the country are skipping meals, buying cheap junk food, or devoting time that could be spent learning to searching for free food events, researchers say.

A national survey published this year by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 48 percent of students in two-year institutions and 41 percent of students at four-year institutions experienced food insecurity within the past month.

The problem of food insecurity — an inconsistent supply of nutritious food — on college campuses has garnered more awareness in recent years, and psychologists have started to take note.

When I attended Carnegie Mellon University, I lived off canned vegetables for a while, selling my CDs to treat myself to Wendy’s every now and then.  That’s when I transitioned from my teenage preference for plain food to the enjoyment of meals with all the extras piled on — not because I discovered my taste buds, but because it hit me that the additional nutrition came at no extra cost.  When I found myself at the University of Rhode Island, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. some mornings to unload fishing boats and took whatever fish or squid were going to be discarded.

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This used to be considered part of the rewarding, empowering struggle to advance in life, and of course — obviously — it was a more common experience among the disadvantaged.  The difference was that it was something of which to be proud; you started there, and through this dedication, you are headed somewhere different.  With the label “food insecurity” tacked on, that source of pride now “disproportionately affects low-income, first-generation, international, and other minority students.”

The insinuation is that society’s failure to give you what you deserve is hindering you from getting where you would naturally transition, as if without effort, and that you can’t reasonably be expected to advance based on your own grit.  Unstated is that framing things in this way takes the emphasis off of the individual and the employers who provide opportunity and moves it toward the sociologists who get grants to do the studies, the political advocates who force redistribution of wealth, and the social workers who dispense it.


Another Big Casino Player Enters the Ring

News and commentary in Rhode Island have focused on the battle of the two big players in our gambling market. reports that the dispute has attracted another interested party:

The ongoing spat between Twin River Worldwide Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:TRWH) and International Game Technology Plc (NYSE:IGT) regarding the latter’s dominance in Rhode Island’s gaming machine market has a new participant: Scientific Games Corp. (NASDAQ: SGMS).

Scientific Games, one of IGT’s primary rivals, is reportedly in talks with Twin River, the operator of Rhode Island’s two casinos, to bid for Ocean State business. …

Earlier this week, two SG lobbyists met with Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-RI). Mattiello has previously expressed dismay with Raimondo’s dealings with IGT, while questioning whether the governor’s proposal could hold up to legislative scrutiny.

Gambling is big business and, thanks to the government’s having claimed a monopoly, that business operates in a restrictive market that doesn’t spread out leverage very well.  Now that gambling isn’t restricted to lotteries, bingos, and isolated casino districts, the number of players will grow, but they’ll still be big, making every policy change highly political.


What’s in…. What’s out… 8/9/19

What’s in….

An order to take over a school district. RI State Education Commissioner Angelica Alfante-Green has delivered the state order to take over the Providence School System. Although a permanent school superintendent has not been chosen yet, Interim Superintendent Fran Gallo remains at the helm.

Alfante-Green has stated she has taken full charge of the Providence School System including all school personnel and budgets. The order also states that Alfante-Green will assume all powers and authorities that pertain to Providence schools. This puts her in charge and exceeds the power of Mayor Jorge Elorza, the Providence City Council and the school board. All three bodies of government were delivered the order Thursday morning. Superintendent Alfante-Green is making it perfectly clear that she is leading this show and intends to move on with her plans for the Providence School System.

Lifespan opening urgent care in Warwick.  Lifespan has announced the opening of its first urgent care facility in Warwick in September. The announcement was made by Bobby Hingorani, director of urgent care operations for Lifespan Physician Group. The new faculty will be located at 17 Airport Road and be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Medical services provide care for colds, flu, earaches, sinus infect, sprains, insect bites and more. This is great news for the city of Warwick and greatly needed in that area.

What’s out…

Killing in Providence. The eighth suspect in the Federal Hill stabbing and murder of Stephen Cabral was arrested on Thursday. The 28-year-old man is charged with murder, conspiracy, and robbery charges. Sharkym Brown was arrested in Providence and is now in custody. More suspects are still at large, but Providence Police are closing in on all who were involved in the fatal murder. Meanwhile, Club Seven remains closed after the patrons of the bar were involved in this stabbing after leaving the club.

The state has overturned the City of Providence’s ruling, allowing Club Seven to reopen with certain conditions. One of the conditions is an 11:00 p.m. closing. Nicholas Hemond, attorney for Club Seven, has said that the club has lost many of its staff due to closing and may not reopen soon.

IGT and Twin River.  The list of lobbyists for each gaming giant continues to grow. The money being spent here to win this contract is astounding. The governor wants to award a 20-year, no-bid contract extension to IGT (formerly G-Tech). Twin River wants the chance to bid on this contract and has said it can fulfill the contract needs. IGT charges that Twin River does not have the technology. State law requires that this contract go to bid and be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. The contract should go out to bid and be awarded to the lowest responsible qualified bidder as state law says.

That’s all folks… have a great weekend!


Joanne Giannini served as a RI  State Representative from Providence (Democrat-District 7, Mt. pleasant/Elmhurst)  from 1994 to 2010. She has previously written commentaries for the Providence Journal and the Federal Hill Gazzette, GoLocal Prov, And RI News Review. During her tenure in the General Assembly, she made appearances on CNN network news, Primetime news and American Morning regarding legislation she filed in Rhode Island.

Featured image by Dave Amadio.


News to Warm a Coffee Drinker’s Heart

Here’s the sort of news I like to see:

People have been drinking coffee since at least the 15th century, and it’s been a staple of the workplace for more than a century. But it’s only fairly recently that science has explained some of its incredible health benefits.

As an avid coffee fan, I’ve written a lot over the years on new scientific studies about coffee’s health benefits. Here’s a quick recap of some of the best of them.

According to science, coffee is a veritable miracle drink that reduces your chance of death, lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, and suicide, burns fat, slows down the aging process, and maintains brain activity farther into old age.  Clearly with results this good, we can reasonably expect that they must be accurate and will not be contradicted by future research.

Sure, there’s a chance that drinking over 35 ounces per day will begin to have some negative cardiovascular consequences, but that’s manageable.  And besides, I’m skeptical of that one.


Two Giants’ Gaming Wars in Rhode Island

The heat is on! Is the proposed IGT deal in jeopardy?

Just before the General Assembly ended their legislative session, it was announced that a no bid contract deal with lottery giant IGT was reached.

There was talk of a special session in the fall to confirm the $1 billion legislative deal reached between IGT officials, Governor Gina Raimondo, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Domenic Ruggerio. But that seems to be put on hold for now.

The governor has stated that IGT provides over 1,000 jobs and losing the contract with them would mean loss of those jobs here in Rhode Island. She added  that only three companies in the country provide the same services as IGT.

Meanwhile, after the deal was announced, officials at Twin River Casino decided that they should be able to bid on this billion-dollar contract. Spokesperson for Twin River Patti Doyle made a statement in Providence Business News…“to give one gaming company monopoly control of the machines on the casino floor is unprecedented in the industry and is significantly harming Rhode Island taxpayers.”

Doyle is also a spokesperson for Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, which makes this all the more interesting.

In the past several weeks, we have seen a flurry of advertisements by Twin River saying the IGT contract extension should be put to bid. Twin River claims they can provide the same services as IGT by contracting out some services. But will contracting out these services cost the state more? The governor has repeatedly said that IGT is the only RI company that can fulfill the contract specifications. She also stated that losing 1,000 jobs to another state could be detrimental to Rhode Island. IGT has started a media blitz of their own, “Keeping jobs in RI,” and claiming RI would lose 1,100 jobs. They also state that Twin River cannot handle the technology.

Twin River has hired some of Rhode Island’s biggest “top guns” as lobbyists. On the list are names such as: David Cruise, George Caruolo, Matt Jerzyk, Chris Boyle, and William Farrell. All are well known in state circles and politically connected. Their mission is to lobby for Twin River and possibly change the minds of Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Domenic Ruggerio.

The lobbyists hired by IGT are: company execs Donald Sweitzer and Michael Mello, Robert Goldberg, Andrew Annaldo, Peter Baptista, Erich Haslehurst, Gayle Wolf, Kevin Horan, and Stephanie L. Federico. Most lobbyists are paid between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

State law does require that contracts such as this be put out to bid and that the award go to the “lowest responsible bidder.” The speaker has said recently that he would like to see further studies of the proposed contract and public hearings. Could Mattiello be changing his mind?

Governor Raimondo told the Providence Journal on Friday that she has no intention of a further study. “I think it is a risk, and I think we have to do everything we can to keep them here. This is a good deal on the table. It deserves a public vetting. … I respect the legislative process. I respect that. But let’s take action. We can’t risk losing [IGT].”

So where does that leave the deal? Right smack in the middle of a big controversy. To bid or not to bid? Both sides are in a tug of war with powerful advocates in their corner.

The governor has a good working relationship with IGT and compliments their past performance and job stability in Rhode Island. Twin River has a good working relationship with the General Assembly that they have built over the years, as the state’s gaming partner.

All this has resulted in the “Gaming Wars” of these two gaming giants. Does anyone care to bet on who will win? Stay tuned as Rhode Island awaits to see who the winners and losers are in this deal.


Joanne Giannini served as a RI  State Representative from Providence (Democrat-District 7, Mt. pleasant/Elmhurst)  from 1994 to 2010. She has previously written commentaries for the Providence Journal and the Federal Hill Gazzette, GoLocal Prov, And RI News Review. During her tenure in the General Assembly, she made appearances on CNN network news, Primetime news and American Morning regarding legislation she filed in Rhode Island.

Featured image: Godzilla vs. Ghidorah in 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.


The Problem of Compartmental and Universal Thinking in Ed Reform

In response to education posts in this space, commenter Joe Smith has been raising smart questions that deserve deeper thought.  Unfortunately, that often means they’ll go without response, given my limited time.  Yesterday, however, Joe’s comment to my post about the discrepancy between the race and gender of struggling Providence students and their teachers evokes a bigger theme:

The last Commissioner would duck when the point of teacher gender proportions was raised in response to his statement that the classroom teachers should reflect the community – clearly his focus was on women of color. Heaven forbid we talk about whether the elementary school 85-15 women to men ratio has an effect on the reading / literacy gap among boys.

And take out ‘gym’ teachers (and music) – probably goes north of 90%

But Justin – it’s not just public schools. You write – If a school could try to fill an obvious need by emphasizing male teachers, for example, then families who think that environment might help their children could give it a try, and we could all observe the results.

Well, Catholic schools are 86% female in elementary – about the same as public schools – and same trend that high school tends to be more closer to 50/50. Arguably decades ago that would be unsurprising given the role of nuns in catholic education; however, laity make up 98% of the catholic teachers so it would seem the same “supply” side of the market issues prevail. Hence, either “the demand” side from parents is weak or regardless of that, there are supply side (ranging from low starting pay across both public and private to the cultural dynamics) issues that simply expanding ‘choice’ isn’t going to fix. Given private schools have more flexibility in hiring, those schools would have an easier time hiring more male teachers if it was simply the need to respond to demand forces.

Perhaps we need to look at the other end of the supply pipeline. Why not, for example, eliminate the social security penalty on early retirees if the earned income is from an elementary/middle school (public or private)? Relook the AmeriCorps incentives instead of just blanket student loan forgiveness.

This relates to a Twitter exchange involving Erika Sanzi and Matt Allen, in which Matt wrote:

I want to see the research that shows that the gender/race/whatever of the teacher matching students impacts education. If it does, then why are we not talking about splitting schools up by race and gender?? Wouldn’t that be the rational next step?

I responded to Matt that things aren’t as simple as that; many other factors would confound the data. But if (1) the system is already struggling for some other reason, (2) students are expressing a feeling of ambivalence from teachers, and (3) the race/gender disparity is this big, decreasing the perceived differences between teachers and students could be part of a first-round of actions.  We can’t deny that our progressive society is saturated with racial thinking, and even were it nothing but an easy excuse for failure, there is some value to taking that excuse away.

Of course, the complexity of the issue is relevant to Joe Smith’s argument, too.  If private schools are doing something else right, demographic differences between students and faculty might not have any effect at all.  For instance, a private school can lose its students easily if it fails to provide some perceived extra value versus the “free” public alternative, and the teachers don’t tend to be unionized.  These factors could give teachers greater incentive to make every student feel wanted, which could far outweigh any tendency to engage only with those students whom a teacher finds easiest to relate to.

To put the matter in the economic terms that Joe uses, the “demand” for male teachers in private schools could be weak because the marginal benefit over the product they already provide is minimal or nonexistent.  One would not, after all, argue against nutritionally fortifying rice sent to a starving nation on the grounds that American restaurants don’t add such fortification to the food that they provide.  They don’t have to, and most Americans don’t need it.

This analogy raises another market consideration for educational freedom, the whole purpose of which is to provide opportunity to those who lack the means to acquire it on their own.  It may be that the needs of students from families that can afford to pay additionally to their taxes for education are different from the needs of students from families that cannot.  Creating a pool of revenue that serves this community would make it possible to address a market need that is currently unanswered.

All of the analysis points to the single most important quality of educational freedom reforms:  They aren’t about finding and providing the solution, but about creating a new framework in which the people closest to the schools and closest to the students can figure out what solutions work for them.  Just so, the single biggest flaw of our current approach to education is that it requires us to figure out paradigms and fixes that can be applied universally.

That’s a very strange demand from a society that claims to value diversity.


Maybe Providence Schools Need to Allow Diversity

This isn’t a way of thinking that I tend to encourage, but we’ve all been trained to it, and in this case, it might apply.  Go back and take a look at the photos from Mark Patinkin’s interview with students from Providence schools who say that teachers have taken no interest in them.  Now, click over to Dan McGowan’s interviews with five Providence teachers of the year, in which they suggest fixes.

What do you notice?  The list is missing the teacher of the year from 2017, but your observation that they are all white women still applies.

Now, I believe that hiring and, especially, professional awards, should be done based on objective criteria; whoever wins, wins.  And of course, the teachers of the year aren’t necessarily representative of the entire faculty, demographically.

That said, when black male students are expressing a sense that teachers in a failing school district don’t take an interest in them, and the stars among those teachers are all white women, we might reasonably ask whether we’re missing some important criteria.  Consider that the student who most directly insisted that not a single teacher has taken an interest in him did concede that the dean of students seemed to care, and his mother told Patinkin that the administrators at the school “were the only ones who tried to get students on track.”  At least as currently reported on Gilbert Stuart Middle School’s Web page, the administration is four-fifths male.

Our current approach to education, as well as political correctness, make it difficult to think of a fair solution that could conceivably make it through the public-policy gauntlet.  Here, again, educational freedom might help.  If a school could try to fill an obvious need by emphasizing male teachers, for example, then families who think that environment might help their children could give it a try, and we could all observe the results.

As it is, we’re locked in to making universal decisions within the confines of discrimination policies that have to apply across the board, and that are founded on narrow ideological views of fairness.


Featured image: The classic “Puddin’ Taine, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same” scene from the Little Rascals episode, “Readin’ and Writin'”


The National Story for the Governor

Michael Graham, who can be credited with ramping up questions about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s dealings with IGT and Donald Sweitzer, is out with another column asking whether the air of scandal that now lingers around her will be good for Democrats elsewhere, especially in swing states:

“[The Democratic Governor’s Association’s fundraising windfall is] great, until GOP oppo researchers in Kentucky and Louisiana start putting together DGA donations to Democrats in those states and the ethics scrap back in Rhode Island,” one national Democratic strategist told InsideSources. The strategist requested anonymity in order to speak freely about Democratic campaigns. …

Veteran Democratic strategist Jim Manley doesn’t agree that it’s a problem. “Sure, the GOP will try to make an issue out of it, but in the grand scheme of things, the 2020 election is going to come down to Donald Trump,” he told InsideSources.

And having one of the nation’s most unpopular governors as the public face of the DGA?

“Now that’s a good question,” Manley concedes.

For Rhode Islanders who believe our governor is best predicted, at this point, by her national ambitions, this is a conspicuous trend.  So far, Raimondo’s PR army has managed to get her good press nationally no matter what was going on in Rhode Island.  We’ll see how well that holds as she gets an increasingly real sense of the national stage, where not everybody who has substantial influence is more inclined to be on her side than not.

By the same token, Rhode Islanders who are frustrated with our state’s inability to address its systemic corruption can take a lesson:  Where there are competing groups, there is accountability.


The Important Perspective on Providence Schools

If you missed Mark Patinkin’s interview with four students from Providence schools last week, rewind a bit and give it a read.  This may be the biggest gut-punch of the thing:

I asked Saquan if any teachers took an interest in him.


Not even one?


Then he said the dean of students did care, but not any teachers.

His mom, Sandra, agreed with that — that the administrators at Gilbert were the only ones who tried to get students on track.

Sandra had hoped teachers would provide the kind of role models she said are often lacking for kids like Saquan, but she’s been disappointed.

It’s heartbreaking for a student to feel this way, but we need to broaden the picture if we’re going to figure out a way through our current crisis.  We can certainly expect teachers to do more than the minimum and to take an interest in their students, and we can hope that they’ll be role models for students in particular need of such examples.  But we can’t count on their being so.

Time is just too short and human beings are too complicated.  Connections between people form in unexpected, often-inscrutable ways.  Therefore, children should be in as many situations where they might find healthy role models as possible.  When it comes to disadvantaged students, families need to be able to be more efficient in that search.

If we accept these principles, than it’s ridiculous of us to expect public schools to fill the same purpose for every student.  Different students within a community will require different settings, and the default public school in each community should be tailored to the students in that community.

This is one reason I’m skeptical of statewide curricula and that sort of thing.  It’s also why I’m a proponent of school choice.  To be sure, standardized testing would seem to be in contrast with this view, but that is only a necessity because a lack of choice leaves a school bereft of real accountability.

Or perhaps I should start modifying that assertion.  Providence shows that if things get bad enough, accountability might … might … find its way in, but we should set our social alarms to be much more sensitive than that.


Proud of my Dad’s Big-League, Historic Anniversary

This week, let’s have a change of pace. Instead, I’d like to share something personal with you.

I’d like you to know how PROUD I AM OF MY DAD.

This past Tuesday was the 57th anniversary of my dad making major league baseball history! On July 30, 1962, as a pitcher for the last place Washington Senators, Dave Stenhouse became the first rookie pitcher ever to start a big-league All-Star game when he took the mound at Wrigley Field for the American League All-Stars.

Among the National League stars he faced: Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Orlando Cepeda … the NL squad was so packed that Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, and Frank Robinson were subs!!

Dad pitched two innings and gave up one run … and the A.L. won!

My dad is also a deserving inductee into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Talk about a Rhode Island All-Star – and you can see why I am so proud.

I hope you feel the same about your family – and I hope you tell them, like I did.

Godspeed for a GREAT weekend and rest of the summer with your family!

P.S.  What is that lump on his left jaw?