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Raimondo Transparency: Ain’t Your Business

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) asked the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo for some information about a public relations firm’s activities placing stories about Rhode Island in out-of-town publications at taxpayer expense.  Here’s the response:

Our office completed a review of the requested materials. There is one document responsive to your request but is being withheld, as it is not deemed public. This document is an internal e-mail thread reflecting work product of the Governor’s staff.

The next paragraph laughably invites the person requesting the information to appeal the decision to Raimondo Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, a left-wing activist.

Given the notable, noteworthy, and much-noted appearances of our governor in out-of-state publications that were explicitly promoting her, not Rhode Island, one would think her administration would be eager to prove that it isn’t buying that coverage with taxpayer dollars.  The lack of transparency will inevitably make Rhode Islanders suspicious that this may be exactly what the governor is doing.

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Campaigning on Your Dime; Dud of a Press Conference

In case anybody missed it, I’d like to highlight the following item from this week’s Political Scene in the Providence Journal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo has a new $61,751 staffer: RISD grad Jon Gourlay. His newly created job title: “Creative Manager — Governor’s Communications Office.” His actual role: producing web videos for Governor Raimondo, who is expected to run for reelection next year.

To some extent, her spokesman, Mike Raia, has a point when he says, “The way people get their information has changed, and elected leaders need to generate creative content to break through on social media and other digital and curated platforms.”  The content of the videos will be the decisive tell, though.

If Rhode Islanders get short instructional videos about interacting with government or more-catchy-than-usual public service announcements, the governor’s office will have an argument.  However, if we get more self-promotional trash like this, then the “21st century constituency” stuff will have proven to be just spin.

I know which way I’d bet, especially given what appears to have been a dud of a press conference from the governor, yesterday.  Is Raimondo so thoroughly without political chips that she’s got nothing but words to salvage a budget containing her single biggest emphasis of the past year?  She just doesn’t seem to get how to govern or use leverage and communications to bring about real action, so why would her new employee’s videos be dedicated to that purpose?*

* Before she actually became governor, Raimondo’s success with pension reform would have seemed to suggest otherwise, based on the “Truth in Numbers” campaign.  As time goes on, though, that issue is looking more like a one-hit-wonder achievement, perhaps founded more on the promise that her mild reform would make the mammoth problem of pension funding go away.  The clock is ticking toward the date at which the fallacy will be proven.

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“Collusion” Among Newspapers, Researchers, and “the Resistance”

This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media.  This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal.  The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:

The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.

Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means.  They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”

This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims.  Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented.  It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.

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Patinkin Acknowledges the Problem

As I find myself awash in budget and employment numbers, a quick midday post can be well utilized to offer kudos to Providence Journal Mark Patinkin for exhorting his fellow leftists to reevaluate their rhetoric in the wake of the GOP-baseball shooting:

The left has long charged that such reckless words by Trump add to a toxic political culture.

What they seldom acknowledge is that the Democratic leadership has been no better.

A basket of deplorables, Hillary called Trump supporters, and went on to label them this way: “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

It’s no stretch to say such seeds can help make a twisted mind feel justified in going after Republicans with a gun. …

Now that Trump’s president, I’ve also noticed how the left doesn’t just call his policies wrong-headed — they catastrophize them.

His health-care plan? People will die. Environmental and social-policy cutbacks? Those will kill people, too. And the cries for impeachment have been constant — not just from lefty nuts, but the nightly talking heads on MSNBC.

In discussion, I’d offer some tweaks.  It’s certainly conspicuous, for example, that Patinkin doesn’t call out Rhode Island’s own vitriolic Congressional delegates.

I’m also mystified as to how it could possibly have taken until this shooting for Patinkin to realize that the Left has “violent zealots.”  Umm… the Weather Underground?  Eco-terrorists?  Among the recent campus attacks on conservatives (which he mentions broadly) was an ethics professor who hit three Trump supporters in the head with a bicycle lock.

From where I sit, this week’s shooting shouldn’t be a revelation of left-wing violence, because it’s the predictable escalation of longstanding tendencies among people who share the progressive political ideology in response to political weakness.  This isn’t just observation, but reason.  Progressives deify government as the bringer of “progress” and “social justice,” which means conservatives are actively preventing the world from harmonizing.

These points aside, Patinkin is going farther in acknowledging the current reality than anybody else I’ve seen on Rhode Island’s left or in its mainstream, and that’s to be applauded.

(By the way, MSNBC talking heads are clearly lefty nuts.)

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What the Culture Cares About

Here’s an interesting cultural snapshot, with Dan McGowan reporting for WPRI on an arrest in Providence.

According to the article, a middle-aged man was driving alongside two boys on bikes and disturbed them enough that they reported him to the police.  After a search, the cops found a couple of street-fighting weapons.

What makes the story interesting is that the headline mentions only that the guy “yelled [a] racial slur at [a] Providence cop.”  Why is that the news?

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, but it raises questions about the purpose of journalism.  Objectively, one would think that the core benefit of reporting this incident would be to alert residents to potential threats in their neighborhoods — including, broadly, a general sense of how safe they are, particularly for children.

What’s the news value of a guy under the duress of being arrested lashing out at a cop with a racial slur?  Is it to give people the sense that racism still pervades our society?  If that were true, though, it seems to me that a single example wouldn’t be a story, because racial slurs would be so common.  (One wonders, by the by, how often white cops are called names by those whom they’ve arrested.)

Or maybe the news value is just that our society (or at least a certain segment thereof) is obsessed with seeking out signs of racism for promotion with the paradoxical stated goal of erasing it entirely.

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Journalists and RI Politicians to Blame for “Mounting Anxiety” over Medicaid Reform

Earlier today, I noted how willing Rhode Island politicians are to sacrifice the well-being of Rhode Islanders and then attempt to scare us into political activism against their opposition.  In wishing the news media would play a role in bringing them back toward more-reasonable rhetoric, I probably underplayed the degree to which journalists are complicit.  Consider Lynn Arditi’s Providence Journal article whipping up the panic about federal health care reform:

Now, Porreca and others like him could lose their coverage under a Republican plan to roll back that Medicaid expansion and limit future federal financing for the safety-net program. Able-bodied adults also could be required to work in order to qualify for Medicaid.

The first sentence is false, and the second is misleading.  The paragraph is partisan fear-mongering propaganda.  As I’ve already explained, the House Republicans’ AHCA legislation includes no cut to Medicaid.  Anybody claiming otherwise is wrong, and anybody claiming otherwise whose job it is to objectively inform people is either lying or committing professional malfeasance through his or her negligence.  Adding in the work requirement in that context makes frightening something that is arguably a reasonable policy and leaves out the reality that Rhode Island’s state government would have to go along.

If “anxiety” is “mounting,” as the Providence Journal headline suggests, the news media and Rhode Island politicians are to blame.  If only people would begin holding them accountable for the anxiety they cause out of their own selfish interests.

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The Administration that Spied on Its People

Recent reports that the Obama administration used data-collection to spy on political opposition seems like it ought to be treated as a much bigger deal than it’s been:

According to top-secret documents made public by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – often referred to as the FISA court – the government admitted that, just days before the 2016 election, NSA analysts were violating surveillance rules on a regular basis. This pattern of overreach, coupled with the timing of the government’s disclosure, resulted in an unusually harsh rebuke of the administration’s practices and principles. …

“Sources of mine have indicated that political players have increasingly devised premises to gather intel on political targets by wrapping them up in ‘incidental’ collection of foreigners, as if by accident,” Sharyl Attkisson, who is pursuing a federal lawsuit the Department of Justice has tried to dismiss, told the Fox News Investigative Unit.

The numbers are staggering:

More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa.

The NSA has said it has stopped the program, which is as it should be, but isn’t it convenient that it has done so only now that the Deep State’s preferred political party is out of the White House?

Yet, the mainstream media has refused to cover the story.  That seems kind of convenient, too.

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Hyperventilation Over Any Limits on Government Growth

This isn’t just an anti-Trump thing, but a chronic pro-big-government tic of most mainstream journalism.  To be sure, this isn’t the flashiest, most-eyeball-catching-est detail, but Dan Mitchell highlights the bottom line of President Trump’s proposed budget:

First, the budget isn’t being cut. Indeed, Trump is proposing that federal spending increase from $4.06 trillion this year to $5.71 trillion in 2027.

That’s a 3.5% increase every year, when inflation is projected to be about two-thirds of that (a little over 2%).  What would it take for the news media to begin reacting skeptically to those proclaiming the end of the world because federal spending is only growing consistently at 75% of inflation?

Much of the response to the budget proposal seems to me to have been defining a growth-and-employment approach to helping the poor as “cruelty.”  Non-cruelty, apparently, is giving more of some people’s money to other people, as opposed to creating the conditions in which they can earn their own money.  Compassion, in short, is measured by the amount that government gives things away.

That’s not a healthy view.

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The Paper of the RI Resistance Does Its Best

Notice that today’s half-page (with pictures) Providence Journal article about a Woman Project “rally” to support the right of women to kill their children doesn’t mention how many people actually attended.  Sure, Patrick Anderson lets us know that prior rallies of the Rhode Island left wing were sizable, but from the text and the pictures, one gets the impression that a dozen or two people (including the performers and professional activists) showed up.

That fact doesn’t prevent the Projo from considering the event newsworthy, which contributes to the impression that it’s really just fulfilling its role in “the Resistance” by making sure that readers of its biggest weekly edition know that the anti-Trumpers are still out there.

State Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, [who doesn’t appear to have been at the rally,] has been a lead organizer of the Rhode Island anti-Trump movement and has watched it evolve from, as he described it, “an inferno to a slow, steady burn.”

He noted that in addition to all the weekend events, there were several State House rallies each week on different left-leaning bills.

“One important thing the movement is doing is moving from resistance to policy,” Regunberg said, “making the transition from outrage to something concrete.”

I couldn’t help think of the movement’s transition to “a slow, steady burn” while reading Cheryl Chumley’s Washington Times article about escalating left-wing violence against conservatives and Republicans.  Add to Chumley’s list a message sent to Republican Congressman from Virginia Tom Garrett: “This is how we’re going to kill your wife.”

At this point, it probably won’t take much effort, but for a moment’s imaginative exercise, consider how the Providence Journal would have reported on a small conservative rally at the State House in the context of national increase of violence and intimidation perpetrated by right-wingers.  “Slow, steady burn” might have been used to insinuate something sinister.

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Not Stating the Obvious on RI Economic News

I noted a couple of days ago URI economic professor Len Lardaro’s witticism at Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s suggestion that the state government’s revenue shortfall is a consequence of the Donald Trump presidency.  Lardaro also appears as a stronger-than-others voice of sanity in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article on the same subject:

Leonard Lardaro, economics professor at the University of Rhode Island, said overall revenues falling short by 1.6 percent is “not a crisis,” but may be a sign that the recovery, tepid as it was, may be giving way to a stall in growth.

“The second half of last year was not a terribly favorable one for Rhode Island,” Lardaro said. “The biggest problem is our labor force has been declining since the last recession peak. Rhode Island for a decade should be in crisis mode.”

If anything, Lardaro understates things.  As I’ve written before, employment (Rhode Islanders working) has essentially flatlined since the start of Governor Raimondo’s first full fiscal year in office, and job growth (jobs in the state) has slowed down.  New York Times proclamations notwithstanding, there is no “momentum” in the Rhode Island economy.  And there’s no surprise that revenue growth isn’t materializing.

Why is everybody so hesitant about stating the obvious:  that Governor Raimondo is just making things up?  Is it partly because of glowing political profiles across the nation are a signal to local journalists and commentators about how they should be presenting our governor?  I rather think that pressure should go in the other direction, with the national press looking locally to make sure that they’re not falling for some spin about one of our own politicians.

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We Had the Logic, Now We Have an Example, Too

Rhode Islanders, especially, should heed the admonition of The American Interest that Puerto Rico may be a final warning lesson to states within the United States:

This [bankruptcy] could have been avoided by sensible and timely cuts, by turning a deaf ear to public sector union demands for wages and salaries, by a series of small but definite steps away from the blue model, welfare state governance. But the press, certainly including the NYT which is now reporting the disaster, would have attacked any politicians taking these steps as “harsh”, or “cruel to the poor”.

Now Puerto Rico is in a deeper hole, with much more suffering than any of the moderate cuts would have imposed.

Just look at the false rhetoric permeating the debate over some overly mild reforms to the disastrous ObamaCare entitlement system for a timely illustration.  Any restraint on government programs is declared to be a “draconian cut” that will hurt or kill people, marking politicians who support reforms as evil.  This will not end well, but just like junkies, supporters of big government just want that one more fix, and let tomorrow take care of itself, somehow.

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Congressional Health Care Bill and the Purpose of Government

Look, I get it.  It doesn’t do anybody any good (except maybe politicians) to caricature the opposition, and I understand that Big Government types believe, at some level, in the mission of government, and on that level, an equivalence between funding and policy goals is justified.  But reading news from up north, I can’t help but think a critical line of perspective has been crossed:

The health care bill that Congressional Republicans plan to bring to the House floor for a vote Thursday afternoon would result in “a massive loss of critical funds” for Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said. …

The potential loss of federal revenues, a major source of funds for the state budget, could compound budget problems associated with tax collections that for many months now have come in well short of the projections that Baker and legislative leaders have used to plan state spending.

Somewhere in this process of elected officials’ making statements and journalists’ reporting them, shouldn’t somebody have the role of putting front and center the key question, here, which is whether a particular policy is better for the people of the United States of America?  If ObamaCare crashes of its own weight, wouldn’t that be bad, too?  If so, wouldn’t that be worse than a state-level budget crunch?

(Yes, look, I get it… a health-industry collapse would just mean more money and power for the federal and state governments.  I’m being rhetorical, here.)

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Why Knowledge Is Important (Pre-Existing Conditions)

Josh Blackman highlights one of those political truisms that still surprises when one sees evidence.

First, he cites a 2009 Kaiser Family survey finding that support flips for an ObamaCare provision that makes it difficult “for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most” when people are informed that it would increase their own premiums.  Next, he cites the same phenomenon in a more recent Cato/YouGov survey, concerning the “community rating” provision that forbids adjusting premiums based on medical history.

This is why it makes a difference how surveys are worded and, even more, what points news stories present.  It makes progressive policies look much, much more attractive if there’s never any cost associated with the feel-good legislation.  Every story should contain a micro-lesson on basic economics.

Making this tendency more tragic, in this case, is that these small populations of exceptions could be addressed in ways that are much more fair and much better economically and with regard to outcomes.

Knowledge, as they say, is power, which is why the Left spent decades corrupting institutions like the media and higher education by which Western Civilization transmits its information.

(Via Instapundit.)

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