Is the cure worse than the disease? Research Director Justin Katz of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity joins CEO Stenhouse on in “In The Dugout” to discuss the coronavirus crisis in RI. Katz is also the managing editor of the Ocean State Current, an he offers an analysis of the data of Governor Gina Raimondo’s data.
Looked at more closely, the Imperial College epidemiological model whose frightening projections set our current reaction in motion
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for April 13, included talk about:
- The governor’s handling of the virus crisis
- The silence from everybody else
- The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s suggestions
- The decisions facing the governor and the people of RI
Welcome to the world of social distancing. As a person-to-person strategy to slow a contagion, it’s absolutely reasonable, but it’s starting to sound like an ominous act by government to tear us apart.
Meet three golfers trying to walk the line between their state of Massachusetts, which closed golf courses, and the neighboring state of Rhode Island, which closed the state to outsiders who can’t quarantine for 14 days:
An Attleboro man and his two golfing partners are being charged with playing a round in Rhode Island in violation of a ban on people coming into the state for nonwork-related reasons. …
They were apprehended at a nearby McDonald’s restaurant, where police say the men changed cars to drive to the course in a vehicle with Rhode Island license plates.
Taunton and Attleboro, where the men are from, are part of the regular lives of Rhode Islanders. The quarantine restrictions don’t apply to Rhode Islanders who travel across the border or to people heading in either direction for work. In this case, the three of them came to Rhode Island to give a local business some money and to walk around a giant outdoor lawn for a few hours.
Perhaps in our current environment this outcome is a matter for reasonable debate (although some would surely say no debate is allowed and I’m wrong), but this seems to me to be an indication that we’re beyond the reasonable line.
Being in the car less, recently, I’ve fallen behind on podcast listening, so the episode of Changing Gears to which I listened while working out last night was a few weeks old. The guys were explaining the various reasons (having to do with materials, labor, and politics) that Rhode Island’s roads don’t last.
Not long afterwards, I was back at the computer and thinking (again) how far Internet technology has come in the past year… when the power went out. All the Zooming, podcasting, on-demand streaming, and other innovations that this viral crisis has made so critical to basic life fell of the table of social organization in an instant. On a clear night, the flow of electricity just stopped.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever losing power when the weather didn’t provide an obvious explanation, and it seems to be becoming more common in recent years. Every time it happens, I can hear a few more generators running, as my neighborhood adapts to this new reality over time.
While the world has been substantially shut down, I’ve also been catching up on reading legislation that managed to receive floor votes. Here’s one to ban disposable plastic shopping bags, and I note the news today that San Francisco has now banned reusable shopping bags to prevent spread of COVID-19. Another bill that didn’t manage to get a vote in the innocent days before the pandemic (House, Senate) would have criminalized the intentional release of balloons into the air.
Yes, while a virus was spreading around the planet bringing death and economic ruin, Rhode Island legislators were pondering a bill titled “Relating to Health and Safety – Balloons.”
Whether we’re talking about the roads or the power grid or the budgetary desperation we’re hearing from our elected officials, the message ought to be clear: Rhode Island has to get back to basics. Stop worrying about balloons. Stop micromanaging the economy. Stop confiscating tax money from people in order to fund superfluous things or pet projects.
This crisis is illustrating the necessity of government for a variety of functions, but it is also proving the need for government to do those critical things well. And that means focusing on them, including a halt to the drain of taxpayer money to things that just shouldn’t be priorities. Both basic government functions and private-sector activity are more important.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for March 30, included talk about:
- Raimondo v. Cuomo
- Cheit v. Fung
- Rhode Islanders v. the state budget
- Democracy v. mail ballots
- and the U.S. Senate as the means of grabbing money
Tiverton’s Town Council became the first-mover to use the cover of new government freedoms during the COVID-19 epidemic to push through a political appointment with no transparency.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for March 16, included talk about:
- The Virus and the politicians
- Britt bends the insider rules
- RI Women for Freedom & Prosperity
- Closing the GOP primary
Conspicuous relationships between powerful people and employees of the Convention Center Authority are just snow on the sharp point of the tip of the iceberg of RI’s patronage network.
Guest: John Marion, Executive Director, Common Cause RI, www.commoncauseri.org
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
Mr. Marion is the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island a non-partisan organization promoting clean, open and accountable government. He discusses the importance of the upcoming census and its impact on redrawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This has given rise to a movement called RedrawRI a campaign to reform how RI legislative districts are drawn. It calls for an impartial citizens’ commission to redistrict the state.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 3, included talk about:
- Raimondo’s anti-Trump special-interest PAC.
- Will the new Providence superintendent earn his pay?
- Everybody could be right, but is wrong, on the Convention Center.
- RI gambling giants’ form a super-crony organization.
If you’ve been around government and politics in Rhode Island for a while, you probably know people who’ve been audited at conspicuous times… like after having spoken up publicly about some issue. This may be part of the reason ripples of excitement have followed indications that Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello of Cranston might be caught red-handed flipping the switch on the familiar weapon.
Particularly intriguing is the way those ripples have caused turmoil among people and entities that tend to unite around good-government issues. Thus, as Mattiello claims to be targeting the Convention Center Authority with an audit to fix what former Republican House Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan calls “a poorly run, incompetently managed building [that] works as a favor factory,” we get current House Minority Leader Blake Filippi filing a lawsuit claiming that Mattiello abused his influence over the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS) to order the audit, followed by the Providence Journal editorial board, led by Ed Achorn, belittling the Republican’s suit as “partisan animosity.”
If the good guys are tripping over each other, the bad guys have wind at their backs. The Convention Center has rejected the audit and called for an investigation of Mattiello by the State Police, which has lost some of its objective luster in recent years for seeming to align too eagerly with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, who has (1) given indications that she sees Mattiello as an obstacle and (2) proven her intent to use political means to advance her agenda through the legislature (including, for example, raising campaign funds to go after legislators at the ballot box).
Interested observers face that old puzzle about whether the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Do good government forces benefit by helping a progressive governor knock out the more-conservative speaker, or by turning a blind eye to what might be raw corruption on his part?
Why everybody can’t be right? Yes, the Convention Center should be audited. Yes, the whole JCLS should meet and take action in a transparent fashion. Yes, it’s worth having some agency look into whether use of the legislature’s auditing power is being abused. Yes, we should be suspicious that a politicized State Police might serve the governor’s political interest.
This is how divided government is supposed to work, making it in everybody’s interest to seek leverage against the others. The problem is that state government in RI is so one-sided that it’s always “heads they win, tails you lose.”
In intellectual discussion at the intersection of religion and science, participants sometimes propose to define miracles as extremely improbable events that happen at a significant time, such that the significance itself appears to have influenced the outcome. If, for example, there is some infinitesimal chance that an incurable disease will just go away and does after the patient prays at some holy shrine, then that might meet the definition of “miracle.”
In a somewhat crass way, this definition came to mind while reading about the state legislature’s audit of the RI Convention Center following the center’s investigation of the speaker’s friend:
“The JCLS has an obligation to meet and determine exactly why an audit was ordered of the Convention Center after Mr. Demers got in trouble at his job,” [RIGOP Chairwoman Susan] Cienki said. “The public deserves to know if government resources are being used by Speaker Mattiello to satisfy a petty personal grudge. If the JCLS won’t meet and explain what is going on, then perhaps the attorney general should investigate.”
Mattiello’s spokesperson, Larry Berman, pushed back at Cienki by pointing out that House Republicans, notably former Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, have been calling for better oversight of the Convention Center’s finances for years. He sent Target 12 multiple press releases and news reports in which Morgan laid out her criticisms.
One gets the sense that this has become the way that Republican, conservative, or just good-government policies find their way miraculously into state law and activity. It is improbable that a Republican’s call to audit a government agency will be heeded in Rhode Island… except at that significant moment when it serves the interest of some powerful interest for ulterior reasons.
Makes one wonder if there’s a list of policy proposals out there awaiting some direct pay-off before they are implemented, with the fact that somebody (or some party) suggested them used as cover.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 20, included talk about:
- The governor’s budget (and popularity)
- The speaker’s interest in the Convention Center
- The women’s march
- Big money state jobs, especially corrections
With the old establishment players back in power in Tiverton, we’ve seen a quick return to the practices that have done so much damage to local government over the decades. Decisions are being made by a few, unidentified people in back rooms and private communications. New hoops are being erected for community groups to jump through. The law is being rewritten by the minute depending on what the Town Council leadership needs it to be. The council’s votes are becoming mere recommendations unless approved by the president.
Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) talk about that and more on Episode 9 of the Tiverton on Track podcast.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 13, included talk about:
- A union president accuses race heretics
- OPEB swamping Providence and Warwick
- Fear about “red flag” laws
- The legislative session starts
- RI losing claim to a Congressional seat,
- The rolling fundraising party of the State House
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:
- Elorza’s interest in being governor
- Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
- Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
- Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism
State of the State co-host Richard August invited me on for a full hour of the show to cover a broad range of topics, from Tiverton’s recall election to broad political philosophy.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 25, included talk about:
- Insider Alves and the radical caucus
- The union view of employer responsibility
- Gaspee versus campaign finance laws
- Paint on the statute becoming blood on government’s hands
- Blood on the police officer’s hand gets a slap on the wrist
If you were to envision the perfect government agency, what would it look like? Rhode Island has come up with one that few would find perfect in an objective sense, but it is perfectly emblematic: the Central Collections Unit.
As Patrick Anderson explains in the Providence Journal, this unit was put into place with the promise that just a little bit of effort from the state government could increase its collection of money owed to the state by millions of collars, well beyond the cost of the program. The reality hasn’t, let’s say, matched expectations:
The Central Collections Unit, created last year to capture some of the millions of dollars owed to state agencies, had collected $196,000 through the end of October, a fraction of what was expected, according to the Department of Revenue.
The Projo editorial board contrasts that revenue with the cost of the unit:
What are the taxpayers spending for that $196,000? According to Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi, the annual budget for the unit is $899,649.
What is a bureaucracy to do? Redefine the goals (emphasis added):
“We’re building something new with the Central Collections Unit, trying an innovative way to improving the state’s financial operations. It’s too early to rate the ultimate effectiveness of the effort this unit is making to hold people accountable,” Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi said in an email. “The figures submitted to the Revenue Estimating Conference cannot tell the complete story. Some of the money we’ve collected goes directly to workers who were shortchanged by their bosses. Other people who owed the largest amounts to the state have been drawn into monthly payment plans by the CCU.”
Ah. So now the Collections Unit is not a profit center, but an expense to assist employees in collecting their own back pay. No articles have yet flushed out a number for how much those workers received, but it would be reasonable to wager that taxpayers would have saved money by simply giving them the cash.
These sorts of debacles-in-the-making can leave Rhode Islanders feeling as if there’s something missing in the story. Who proposed this unit? Who advocated for it? Does it amount to more union membership, or were its employees earmarked before it was even created?
We’ll never know, because nobody has the incentive to dig into it (at the expense of other priorities), which ensures that there will be more plaque-like units building up in the arteries of state government on into the future, with the more-visible officials professing that they can’t get by without growing budgets year after year.
Once again, the RI Ethics Commission proves there’s a big loophole in the Code of Ethics for elected officials who earn their livings working for government agencies.
What is a progressive mayor to do when his city’s policies produce the inevitable problems, including homelessness? Well, in an area of the country where the average temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees, the government can let tent cities emerge for a while. In a place like Bill de Blasio’s New York City, where January’s average is 40 degrees (which any winter visitor knows can feel like it’s in Kelvin, not Fahrenheit, when the wind cascades between the buildings), that isn’t an option.
So, the city has come up with a novel solution:
From the tropical shores of Honolulu and Puerto Rico, to the badlands of Utah and backwaters of Louisiana, the Big Apple has sent local homeless families to 373 cities across the country with a full year of rent in their pockets as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Special One-Time Assistance Program.” Usually, the receiving city knows nothing about it.
City taxpayers have spent $89 million on rent alone since the program’s August 2017 inception to export 5,074 homeless families — 12,482 individuals — to places as close as Newark and as far as the South Pacific, according to Department of Homeless Services data obtained by The Post. Families who once lived in city shelters decamped to 32 states and Puerto Rico.
As Shaun Towne reports, using the interactive map provided in Sara Dorn New York Post article on the program, a handful of beneficiary families found their way to Rhode Island — one each in North Kingstown, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket and three in Providence. The mayors of the northern three of those communities are reportedly not happy about the situation:
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt released a joint statement Thursday calling the program “an outrageous example of bad public policy.” They said it’s “irresponsible” for New York to spring needy families on other communities without warning, especially those already “working with limited resources to improve [their] residents’ quality of life.”
A cynic might quip that these mayors are only upset that they were not notified so as to ensure that their new constituents are registered to vote. This thought leads to a more intellectually interesting problem. The Big Apple’s program suggests a system that creates pressure for the exportation of bad ideas, including both the policies that created the unpleasant situation and the paternalism of using taxpayer dollars to compensate their victims.
Would it be possible to design a system that sends people from localities where good ideas dominate to such benighted states as New York and Rhode Island?
A brief summary of the essential elements leading to no indictments related to the August 14th incident where a Wyatt Detention Center guard drove his truck into immigration-enforcement protesters blocking the entrance to the facility parking lot is as follows…
Protesters at Wyatt wanted some lawlessness, when it gave them an advantage in imposing their will on others.
At the point where the lawless enviornment no longer provided the protestors with the advantage they sought, they wanted the state to step in and take their side.
The system seems to have reached the conclusion that the protestors’ ask was unfair, and has rejected it.
The continuation of events following the decision not to indict is also worth noting…
As recorded in the Woonsocket Call, on the day it was announced, the grand jury decision not to indict was protested at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office in downtown Providence.
However, despite the parking lot for the Attorney General’s office being nearby, the protestors chose not to block traffic or attempt to deny anyone access to a public space during the Providence protest.
Worth discussing, especially with people with divergent views on how the police, prosecutors and the court system are dealing with these types of events; is why the protesters chose blocking access to a public space as their tactic in one place but not the other. There are variety of possibilities and working through them may be revealing.