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Admissions Scandal Is So Very Rhode Island

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, about Rhode Island’s own connection with the college-entrance bribery scandal:

When Rhode Islanders heard that the women’s tennis coach of the state’s public university had been arrested in connection with the national bribery for admission scandal, many must have said, “Wait, what?” Students can get an excellent education at the University of Rhode Island, and it’s certainly an affordable option, but it isn’t exactly an institution for which the nation’s rich and famous would have to pay the sort of premium that might attract the FBI’s attention.

When they learned the details, locals’ reaction was probably something more like, “How very Rhode Island.”

This paragraph is probably the key takeaway for Rhode Islanders:

Rhode Island’s leaders are like the parents who’ve bribed their children’s way into institutions of higher education that were well beyond their merit. Both cases exhibit an implicit insecurity and a desire for people under their care or authority to be something they’re not. In contrast, the initial questions that political leaders and parents ask should be: Who are you really, and how can you achieve your full potential, being who you are? With that more-human perspective as the starting point, parents might not set their children up for embarrassing failure (or criminal prosecution).

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

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Clay Johnson: Handicapping the Race for Chairman of the RI GOP

Perhaps chairwoman would be the more appropriate term, as two of the five announced candidates seeking to serve as the next chair of the Rhode Island’s Republican party are women. A fairly broad diversity of personal characteristics, philosophies, and histories will be presented to central committee voters at the party’s scheduled March 30 election.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Fees, Fraud, Fetuses, and Finding a Field of Candidates

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the many new fees and taxes in the governor’s budget, a progressive’s alleged embezzlement, the significance of an abortion poll, and the multiple candidates for RIGOP chair.

Open post for full audio.

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Partisan Quip a Ding to Reed’s Image

Somehow, I’m always surprised when Rhode Island’s U.S. Senator Jack Reed isn’t better than this:

“President Trump’s myopic fixation on a border wall has resulted in the neglect of our nation’s highways, bridges, airports, public housing, and other key infrastructure investments. But today, Congress is committing long overdue funding to invest in public infrastructure and move America forward,” said Reed, the ranking Democrat on a key transportation and housing appropriations committee.

Oh, come on.  Our infrastructure has been languishing for decades.  Yes, probably just the contrast with the rest of the Ocean State’s federal delegation, but Reed’s brand of honesty takes a little ding every time he makes a silly partisan statement like this.

These days, any area of political activity that ought to have the capacity to bring us together is simply seen as an opportunity to drive a different wedge.

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New Poll Data on Abortion and Priorities

A new group called Citizens for Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness has commissioned and published the results of a new poll by the company Cygnal focusing on abortion:

The top-lines of the poll, which contacted 700 Ocean State residents via land and mobile lines, and with a 3.7% margin of error, include:

  • An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (92.8%) believe that the abortion issue should not be the “top priority” for lawmakers; the abortion issue does not even rank among the top-6 issues
    • Only 7.2% say it’s their top priority
  • An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (73.8%) believe that abortion should not be legal up until birth
    • Less than one-in-five Rhode Islanders (18.8%) believe it should be legal up until birth
  • An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (68.9%) oppose partial-birth abortions in all situations
  • An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (63.9%) oppose second-trimester abortions in all situations
  • An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (63.0%) oppose legislation which removes restrictions as to who can perform abortions

The largest group of respondents (27%) believes that abortion should only be legal in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.  A little more than half of those would leave off rape and incest, too.  Add in those who do not think it should be “permitted under any circumstances,” and the total is 39%.  Another 25% draw the line at the first trimester, making that the majority position.

This means that 74% of Rhode Islanders oppose the state of the law as it currently exists for the nation.

That result is particularly telling when put in the context of respondents’ priorities.  After the universal interest in education, the next three top priorities that Rhode Islanders have for the General Assembly arguably lean conservative:  jobs and the economy, lowering taxes, and combating government corruption.  Indeed, despite Democrats’ being heavily represented in the poll, the largest group of respondents considers itself to be conservative (35%, compared with 32% moderate and 30% liberal).

An interesting question may shed some light on the motivation for the emphasis on “combating government corruption”:  How is it, given these results, that Rhode Island’s statewide office holders are all progressive (perhaps excluding the lieutenant governor) and progressives seem to get so much attention?

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Moderate Party Fades from the Books

I was tempted to make the title of this post something that included the phrase, “reign of error,” but didn’t because folks have mixed feelings about the Moderate Party.  Whatever their feelings, though, apparently not enough people cared to keep the party alive:

By unanimous vote, the R.I. Board of Elections removed the “Moderate Party” that software entrepreneur and two-time candidate for governor Ken Block founded — before bolting for the GOP — as a recognized party.

Under state law, the party needed 5 percent of the overall votes cast in the governor’s race to stay alive.

Unable to recruit any other candidate to carry the torch, Moderate Party Chairman William Gilbert ran himself last year, getting only 2.7 percent in a multi-candidate race that the incumbent, Democrat Gina Raimondo, won with 52.6 percent of the vote.

One can reasonably debate whether the role of the Moderate Party was decisive in the one-two punch to Rhode Island’s gut of electing Lincoln Chafee and then Gina Raimondo.  One cannot doubt, though, that it was a big part of two confounding elections, lowering the barriers to entry for serious independent candidates.

I guess we could also reasonably debate whether that development has been healthy.  I would suggest not, inasmuch as elections need the clarity and sorting that comes with a binary choice.

Whether we’ll be better off going forward without the Moderate Party or the system’s just too broken, at this point, remains to be seen.

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East Greenwich’s Cienki in the Race for State GOP Chair

Suzanne Cienki, the East Greenwich Town Council president whose local leadership had the town’s government in the headlines for a year, has announced her candidacy to be chairwoman of the state Republican Party:

“The State of Rhode Island is run by the Democratic Party,” Cienki said in letter to GOP Central Committee members. “Unfortunately, this one-party system is the same as a no-party system. The balancing of ideas and checks and balances by opposing parties is vital to a democratic society. The RIGOP needs to clearly identify a platform and educate voters in Rhode Island as to how Republicans will do things differently.” …

“I have the leadership skills, time and energy to devote to the position of chair,” Cienki wrote in her letter to party faithful. “I am not afraid of a challenge and willing to speak out on behalf of taxpayers on many important issues. The state party’s main goals should have a clearly identifiable message, focus on fundraising efforts, and recruit candidates to run for statewide offices.”

Amid the behind-the-scenes chatter, I’ve heard it said that Cienki would be a bad choice because she led her council into a rout by the local Democrats, but Republicans should be wary of that argument.  The idea that somebody with the gumption to take on Rhode Island’s established interests should be penalized because she has had to learn from her experience is antithetical to an active movement that can advance a cause.

The way to gain advantage over time is to experiment, take risks, and then learn from the results, both good and bad.  Rather than writing off anybody who has a bad result, a movement that reassesses based on that experience and renews the charge will make progress.  And if the people who made the mistakes are willing to do the same, they’re particularly well suited to guide the change, at the same time that their participation makes it more likely that the opposition will learn the wrong lessons.

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Looking for the Political Line on PR Staff

It appears that GoLocalProv asked Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s office for all communications related to Frank Bruni’s glowing profile of her.  The site reports:

The emails that cover three-months — this past November through January — cover 55 pages and include a number of efforts by Raimondo staffers. In most cases, Raimondo’s office responded to emails in minutes and proactively sent materials and powerpoint presentations that were not requested by the New York Times.

So, Rhode Islanders paid the governor’s staff for three months of assistance on an explicitly political and partisan profile in the New York Times?  GoLocal reports that “it was the New York Times photo desk that dictated Raimondo’s photo” (shown, in part, in the featured image of this post).  That would be the image taken in her official office and positioned so as to make reflected lights look like a halo for Saint Gina.

Maybe it’s time we begin to ask where the boundary is beyond which these activities should be campaign expenses.

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The Coincidental Flow of Money and Jobs for Raimondo PR Shop

When Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s lead PR guy, Mike Raia, left government employ recently, many a politics-watcher wondered what giant leap into uncharted territory he might be taking.  Well, now we know:

The governor’s former communications director is joining the Providence-based ad agency NAIL Communications to lead its new public relations-oriented shingle, NAIL[PR].

Mike Raia, who stepped down from Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration as of Feb. 1, announced his new job as NAIL[PR]’s managing partner Wednesday. The firm will do PR work and strategic communications, Raia said.

Looking at the state’s transparency portal reveals quite a coincidence.  It turns out that NAIL Communications has done very well with government contracts under the Raimondo administration, with $39,500 in fiscal year 2016, $121,475 in 2017, and $223,805 in 2018, with the bulk of that last year coming straight from the Department of Administration, with no programs or subprograms listed.

Per state law, Raia will “recuse” from contracts with Rhode Island’s executive branch for a year, which leaves him plenty of time to work alongside his former boss once again before she moves on to whatever’s next.

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A National Chameleon of Spin

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo certainly has her PR team active.  Within the space of a week, she’s had positive profiles in the major newspapers of the most-major nearby cities.  What’s interesting, though, is how targeted the messaging is.

The New York Times column by Frank Bruni is headlined: “The Loneliness of the Moderate Democrat.”

She can’t tweet worth a damn and the same goes for Instagram. She winces at talk of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent and cringes at the growing use of “corporatist” as a slur against Democratic politicians deemed too cozy with business interests. She thinks that big companies often need to be prodded forcefully to do right by their employees, but that it’s bad policy and bad politics to paint them as the enemy.

She recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

At the New England-regional Boston Globehowever:

In a multicandidate race, [a majority vote is] a mandate, Raimondo says. And now a politician who rose to prominence by pushing pension reforms that enraged public employees is using her mandate to pursue a list of progressive policy goals: expanding a tuition-free college program, universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage, new gun safety laws, pot legalization. She is calling for more money for public schools, after a round of distressingly low student test scores.

Put it all together, and what do you got?  Raimondo is a progressive who wants to appear moderate to a national audience.  Her PR team is (or “teams are”) savvy enough to craft their message for different audiences, and mainstream journalists and columnists are happy to play along.  (Note that the Boston Globe article is by Mark Arsenault, who was at the Providence Journal until 2009.)

Election results notwithstanding, Raimondo still isn’t very popular in her home state.  But she’s smoothly transitioning to status as a fully national Democrat, which means she’ll have plenty of help appearing to different audiences however she wants to appear.

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A Modest Rules Change and the Legislative Firewall

Busy with other things, I was excited to look into details about the new rules that appear likely to apply to the House this legislative session.  And this is definitely a good thing:

The rule changes, endorsed 14-3, would require House leaders to post new legislative language — with some exceptions — for public consumption at least 24 hours before it is voted on by lawmakers.

The exceptions: The annual House budget bill customarily printed and immediately approved by the House Finance Committee late at night will not be subject to the 24-hour posting rule.

And neither will bills the chairman of a committee deems “either technical, grammatical, or not substantive or substantial in nature” need a day’s exposure to public scrutiny.

But I can’t help but wonder… is that it?  I thought we were going to shift power away from the speaker and toward our elected representatives.  More time to review legislative language will help, but not much, and only if legislators are sincerely reviewing it.  If (as one needn’t be too cynical to suspect) their votes depend more on politics than policy, more time won’t matter a bit.

I’ll also acknowledge mixed feelings about this reaction from the speaker:

Speaker Mattiello has pooh-poohed the debate over the House rules as being of little interest to voters. “I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello told Dan Yorke on Thursday. “Nobody is asking me about it. Nobody cares about it.” Referring to the Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats, the speaker added, “This is an internal game with this ‘high-tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

He’s undoubtedly right.  Progressive activists may have impressed the local media by getting a few people to testify, but anybody on the inside knows what that amounts to.  These are folks who’ll turn out anyway and won’t be persuaded to vote for people who don’t align with them.  (Raising my hand with some Tea Party been-there-done-that experience.)

Moreover, Mattiello goes right to the key point.  At this time, the rules (which remain terrible, from a perspective of political theory) are what will enable him to be a firewall against a destructive ideology that would actually be worse than the insider system under which we’ve been suffering.  That he is maintaining his promise of being a firewall is at least a bit of a silver lining.

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“Choice” is Clear in Upcoming Furious Healthcare Debate

A federal judge recently ruled that Obamacare is unconstitutional because the individual mandate, repealed in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is no longer in force. Even though existing federal health-care laws will remain in effect during the appeals process, states should not panic and codify Obamacare into state law, as it is not certain how long federal subsidies will remain intact.

While the courts hear the appeals, and with Democrats winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely on the health-care issue, another furious debate is about to unfold.

Democrats will probably introduce some kind of government-centric plan, while Republicans are poised to introduce their own free-enterprise solution. What we all want are simply more choices at lower net costs.

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“We’re Still Here” After the End of Net Neutrality

Remember that scene in the movie War Games when the military’s top brass (along with our teenage protagonists) are watching monitors that ostensibly show Russian nuclear missiles exploding in major cities across the United States and then some military personnel from around the country check in, proving that the monitors are wrong?  “We’re still here!”

Well, that’s what comes to mind when Glenn Reynolds reminds us that “net neutrality” ended a year ago.  “It’s as if all the Left’s existential crises are just made-up shams,” he writes, quoting Investor’s Business Daily as follows:

So-called experts predicted that removing this cumbersome Obama-era regulatory scheme — which granted the FCC virtually unchecked power over internet providers — would lead to the demise of the internet.

Repealing “net neutrality” regulations “would be the final pillow in (the internet’s) face,” said The New York Times. The ACLU said it “risks erosion of the biggest free-speech platform the world has ever known.” CNET declared that “net neutrality repeal means your internet may never be the same.” CNN labeled repeal the “end of the internet as we know it.” …

A year later, none of the horror stories came true. In fact, average internet speeds climbed by roughly a third last year. The number of homes with access to fiber internet jumped 23% last year, according to the Fiber Broadband Association.

Keeping some perspective as these panics and maniacs work their way through our communities — whether at the national, state, or local levels — is a good practice.

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