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UPDATED: Correction (Sort of) on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Column

Soon after I put up my post, this morning, on Ed Fitzpatrick’s Providence Journal column, the man himself responded to my Twitter link that he’d criticized Sen. Whitehouse for commentary on the floor of the Senate in which he raised the specters of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and Southern lynchings in a column back in 2009.

That column didn’t appear in my search of the Providence Journal’s archives because they don’t go back that far, but Fitzpatrick was good enough to send me the text.  Rereading the 2009 column, while I would have definitely included it in my earlier post, I’m not sure it changes my criticism at all.

For instance, I suggested that Fitzpatrick should have tried to understand why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would have such strong sentiments toward his court, and if we look back to the 2009 column, it’s practically slathered with sympathy for Whitehouse’s heat.  Fitzpatrick presents it as a response to Republican ire, emphasizes that Whitehouse “gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration” (with examples), and gives the senator space to contextualize his comments.

If I may paraphrase the impression the column gives, it’s that:  Whitehouse was only responding to the bad Republicans; he has a lot of company in how he feels; and after all, he’s got underlying reasoning, which Fitzpatrick validates with a “good point.”  None of these qualities are present in the Scalia column.  Indeed, here’s the point of actual criticism of Whitehouse:

Perhaps it’s good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the “death panel” idea (PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year”), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

But I don’t see why Whitehouse had to go all Judgment Day on the GOP when he knew they’d lose the vote. Why not just watch them wail and fail?

Scalia didn’t even go as far as “all Judgment Day,” and he was, in fact, issuing a warning about the actions of the victorious majority.  In Scalia’s case, though, Fitzpatrick is on the side of those who want to insist that there’s nothing wrong, or even questionable, about the outcome or process by which they redefined marriage and likened traditional values to pure bigotry.

As the progressives march across the country trying to put pizza parlors out of business, prevent businesses that receive this treatment from using online tools to collect donations, and grab tax exemption away from churches and charities, one can only hope that liberal columnists prove to object to government oppression, not just reference to oppression from the past.

UPDATE (7/2/15 2:35 p.m.)

In response to the suggestion that I didn’t do an adequate job presenting Fitzpatrick’s objection to Whitehouse above, here’s another statement from the 2009 column, which was what Fitzpatrick put forward as the summary of his criticism in his tweet:

But in the end, Whitehouse only added to that toxicity. He accused the Republicans of going too far and, in the next breath, he went too far himself. Quoting Lord Acton and using vivid literary allusions didn’t save him from venturing down the well-worn path that ends with someone accusing an adversary of being like the Nazis.

I didn’t exclude this paragraph to downplay Fitzpatrick’s criticism of the senator; I just didn’t see that it added anything not covered in my descriptions or quotations.  The context also brushes away much of the criticism.  The paragraph before quotes somebody who liked Whitehouse’s outburst (as pushback against Republican “toxicity,” and the paragraph after notes references inappropriate Nazi references by Lyndon LaRouce (not labeled as a Democrat, though) and Rush Limbaugh.


Edward Fitzpatrick’s Conditional Opposition to Vitriol

In his Providence Journal column, today, Edward Fitzpatrick takes on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia because, as the headline says, “Scalia’s vitriol undercuts his influence.”

It’s not enough for Fitzpatrick to highlight Scalia’s colorful language; he’s got to find an objective reason why the justice should tone it down.  I’d say Fitzpatrick is playing the quietly liberal journalist’s role in changing America.  Objectively speaking, public debate would be healthier if people in that role were more self-aware when it comes to their arguments.

The first step is trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.  If you’re Justice Scalia, you believe that the court on which you serve has become a mechanism for rewriting the Constitution on the fly, in a way that has no real basis in law and therefore cannot be consistently applied.  This lawlessness, from his point of view, invites (perhaps requires) the people of the United States and their elected representatives to begin ignoring the court.  As he put it in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent:

Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. The Judiciary is the “least dangerous” of the federal branches because it has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, “even for the efficacy of its judgments.” With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Fitzpatrick can disagree with that, of course, but if he shared Scalia’s view about the huge importance of this matter, would he still be fretting about whether Scalia’s strong language costs him influence?  I tend to doubt it.  A search of the Providence Journal archives, for example, produces no instance of Fitzpatrick’s worrying about the effects of Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s vitriolic attacks on his fellow Americans, notably his commentary asserting extremism and insinuating racism when it comes to people who were wise enough to oppose ObamaCare.  Fitzpatrick also does not appear to have commented on the senator’s zeal for investigating American organizations with which he disagrees because there might be something for which they could be attacked.

Instead, I found a Fitzpatrick column in which the writer trumpets Whitehouse’s role pushing the minority Democrat line on climate change, which ends with Whitehouse’s not-at-all vitriolic quip that “the best news about a Republican Majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone. They were just a God-awful minority.”

Again, it’s all well and good for Fitzpatrick to do his part to advance progressive causes, but this pose that he’s simply offering his opposition friendly strategic advice gives the game away.

UPDATE (7/2/15 12:55 p.m.):

See here for a partial correction of and some context for the above.


Has Left-Wing Activism Been “Stimulated”?

Russ Moore’s article highlighting how little stimulus money seems to have been spent on infrastructure comes at a good time:

Yet that fact has led many talking heads and casual political observers alike wondering why, after the enactment of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, otherwise known as “the Obama stimulus package” that saw almost $787 billion spent on a national level with just under $1.1 billion sent to Rhode Island, the state still has roads and bridges that can only be described as woeful.

The answer is probably as frustrating as it is simple: it’s because a relatively small amount of money was actually allocated to roads and bridges. According to a GoLocalProv review of federal data on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus spending, just under 9 percent ($95,493,854) of the $1.096 billion that Rhode Island received was given to the Rhode Department of Transportation and used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

As I state in the article, it’s pretty clear that Obama’s stimulus wasn’t meant to actually get anything done for the people of America. It was intended to insulate government at every level from the effects of the recession, to help reinflate the stock market bubble, and to direct taxpayer dollars (rather, taxpayer debt) to the activists with whom Obama is aligned.

For an example on that last point, I’ve noted before that the PolicyLink group that provided the equity piece of the RhodeMap RI puzzle is largely funded through the Dept. of Housing and Urban development, as well as the government entities that receive grants from HUD.  Stimulus didn’t fix our roads, but it did build infrastructure for Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of our country.

It would require more investigative reporting than I have the time to pursue, but one has to wonder how much of the stunning activism we’ve seen in the past few years — to radically change our society and promote a far-left worldview out of keeping with the principles of our constitutional republic — was directly bankrolled by us.


An Electorate That Will Not Learn?

Thomas Sowell’s musings about the implications of electoral support for Hillary Clinton has Rhode Island application:

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.

Electoral decisions are being made for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with running a government.  The biggest factor, I’d say, is simply the self-satisfaction that comes with voting according to a false narrative.  This weekend, I heard from yet another person whom I’d just met that the Democrats are, or used to be, the “party of the little guy.”  Even if that was true by some measure in some place at some point in history, voting for that reason is a bit like saying you vote for the party that Superman would have voted for.  It’s a narrative created as part of the entertainment media.

Other reasons are in play, of course, like the expectation that a particular party will directly transfer taxpayer dollars to one’s business or family.  But I suspect the makeup of our government at the state and federal levels would be very different if people voted according to results rather than rhetoric (and not necessarily in a purely partisan way).


Another Objective Journalist Signs on as Staffer for Democrat Politician

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but since I’ve taken to noting when this happens, it’s worth adding this to the series:

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has hired Tatiana Pina, a much respected former Providence Journal reporter, to work in his communications office. 

Pina started work on June 8 as a $62,918 “assistant communications director for the retirement system,’’ according to the lead spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office, Shana Autiello.

It’s funny.  When I finally managed the leap from carpenter to full-time policy and politics writer, I met with a bunch of folks in the local field, and journalists would scrupulously decline my offer to pick up the tab for a $6 sandwich, or whatever.  The concern, I guess, is that it might look like an attempt to sway their reportage, or something.

It is now regular practice for Rhode Island journalists to step up to jobs in the offices of local officials, who are almost always Democrats, around here.  How could it not affect the reportage of journalists to know that they may want to leave open the option to work for the people on whom they’ve been reporting?  If you’re reporting on — say — the statewide Tea Party or — for example — the activities of a small GOP caucus, the odds of ever getting a job with either group are very small, but the odds of getting a job with the people whom they’re criticizing are pretty big.

One could argue that communications jobs aren’t explicitly political, but they are geared toward making the office holder and his or her policies and actions look good.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but readers should approach the news with full awareness of the incentives for the people producing it.


Indications of Government Homogeny

The two stories at the top of today’s Providence Journal give a sense of the problems when government is characterized by a homogeneity of party and governing philosophy.  For example, the House plans to waive rules that put the governor’s raises for upper staff squarely in the middle of the budget process:

Current law gives the governor a small window of time, in March of each year, to propose and then justify at a public hearing any proposed raises for cabinet members.  

The Department of Administration then has until the last day in April to refer the proposed new salaries to the General Assembly. The raises go into effect 30 days later unless rejected by the House and Senate.  

Raimondo asked lawmakers to do away with that provision in the budget that she proposed to lawmakers in March. The General Assembly’s Democratic leaders didn’t go that far.

Instead, the budget will give leadership a deadline of late August to drag everybody back to the State House to undo the raises.  We can gather that the governor would have to be pretty unreasonable to spark that level of reaction.

The second story has to do with the House Republicans’ alternative approach to funding roads and bridges.  Obviously, the GOP’s proposed amendment to the budget is political theater, but that’s indicative of the problem.  Both the governor and the Speaker of the House can be utterly dismissive of the plan because there is no chance of its happening.

Rhode Island’s governing system leaves little opportunity for surprises (other than revelations of corruption, naturally), so the participants can come to consensus in back rooms among partisan friends without any real need to negotiate a minimization of risk.  If there’s a chance, even a small one, that the minority party can orchestrate a surprise, it isn’t as obviously political theater, which would be a healthier state of affairs for both sides, not to mention the people of Rhode Island.


How to Stop Criminal Politicians

Edward Fitzpatrick wondered, in his Sunday Providence Journal column, how to put an end to the constant corruption in Rhode Island government:

I posed the question to Fox himself: What would this corrupt politician suggest they do at the State House to keep this kind of corruption from happening again?

“Maybe get rid of the connection to electronic banking,” he said, suggesting he might not have looted his campaign account if he had to walk into a bank and face a teller. “It became very easy to push a button and transfer from one to the other.”

Well, I suppose eliminating modern banking is one idea. But how about restoring full Ethics Commission jurisdiction over state legislators to patrol for conflicts of interest? “I passed a bill in the House to give Ethics Commission jurisdiction on the legislature years ago,” Fox replied, “and it’s something that I believe should be looked at again.”

Sure, we could spend another 5-20 years trying to inch the General Assembly toward returning the Ethics Commission’s authority to investigate legislators, but that’s an awful lot of time and energy just to get back to a situation in which corruption was hardly rare, in Rhode Island’s past.

Unfortunately, the two actual solutions to the problem are anathema to liberal journalists:  reduce the scope of government’s power, and build up competing parties.  As long as government’s authority over our lives is constantly growing, and as long as a single party runs the state without challenge, no fixes will work.  All those that are proposed will be perverted into traps for upstart outsiders, whom the media will predictably treat as suspect.

The elites in Rhode Island don’t believe that regular folks can be trusted to run their own lives, and they all still believe the three-generations of pop-culture nonsense that insists that Democrats are always the good guys who are “for the people.”

If Fitzpatrick wants to help turn things around, in Rhode Island’s government, he should start writing profiles of people who aren’t part of the local governing establishment.  If reporters want to challenge the way things are done, in RI, they should start by challenging their own understanding of who the good guys are.


Whitehouse’s Turn to Fascism

I’m with Kevin Williamson on this stunning Washington Post op-ed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  It’s dispiriting to read the very wealthy senator from Rhode Island crossing well into the range of McCarthyism, if not fascism.  I mean, look at this:

To be clear: I don’t know whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry. We don’t have enough information to make that conclusion. Perhaps it’s all smoke and no fire. But there’s an awful lot of smoke.

The suggestion is clear.  Laying the background for the tobacco industry part of the comparison, Whitehouse writes, “Thankfully, the government had a playbook, too.”  And “finally, through the discovery process, government lawyers were able to peel back the layers of deceit and denial and see what the tobacco companies really knew all along about cigarettes.”  That’s what the senator wants to attempt to do to organizations that express skepticism about climate change alarmism.

To what couldn’t this principle apply?  Maybe same-sex marriage advocates have studies showing that children do just as well without their own moms and dads.  Start a Congressional investigation!  Or maybe the gun industry is conspiring to hide evidence that eliminating the Second Amendment would make Americans safer.  Or maybe Grover Norquist has buried a report proving that high taxes are good for the economy and freedom.  Or (and here’s the goldmine) internal memos among Republican groups might prove a big-dollar conspiracy to fool the American people into believing that the Democrats have become a party of ultra-wealthy radicals who have no interest in helping average Americans prosper and who lack the competence to achieve that goal, even if they believed in it.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.  We’ll never know if we don’t start investigating every conservative organization.

This is not a difficult one.  Even people (including journalists) who agree with all of the senator’s political positions should be able to see that.  Whitehouse is way off the deep end, here, and he ought to be called on it.  (But he won’t be.)


A Cold Day in House Finance

It’s almost touching when representatives of that amorphous group known as “ordinary people” overcome the obstacles in order to testify before a legislative committee at the Rhode Island State House.  They’ve got their notes and their passion.  Sometimes they’re shaking slightly with nerves.

Or maybe that’s the fault of the air conditioning.

In some rooms, the heat runs strong well beyond its need; in other rooms, sitting in the audience is an endurance test for cold.  In the hearing room of the House Finance Committee (arguably the single most important hearing room in the building), the air conditioning has regular folks wishing they’d thought to bring the gear they use for late-season football games.

Hot or cold, though, room temperature is just one way the General Assembly attempts to persuade the public that it isn’t worth their time to tell legislators what they think, intentional or not.  Chilling testimony is an apparent goal written into the entire process.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.


Press Conference & Request By Concerned Citizen, Bill Murphy, to Testify about Unfairness of Pension Settlement

[The following was received via e-mail this afternoon.]

Concerned Citizen Seeks to Testify about Unfairness of Pension Settlement to Taxpayers at Court Hearing Tuesday, Schedules Press Conference to Explain Request to the Public

Concerned citizen Dr. William J. Murphy will hold a press conference in front of the Frank Licht Judicial Complex at 250 Benefit Street in Providence at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 to explain to the public the reasons for his request to testify about the unfairness of the pension settlement to taxpayers at the ongoing fairness hearings in Superior Court. Dr. Murphy will deliver a statement emphasizing that the terms of the settlement itself as well as the impropriety of the court-supervised secret negotiation process that produced it have significantly harmed the financial welfare of taxpayers, violated the political rights of citizens, and severely damaged the public interest.

(EAST PROVIDENCE, RI – May 25, 2015) – Dr. William J. Murphy, a concerned resident of East Providence, has petitioned the Rhode Island Superior Court to testify at the ongoing pension settlement fairness hearing Tuesday. He held a press conference at Superior Court in Providence on Tuesday to issue a statement explaining the reasons for his request.

Dr. Murphy opened his remarks by saying that, “The pension settlement is grossly unfair to good citizens of Rhode Island because it adds over $290 million to the unfunded pension debt that the state’s already overburdened taxpayers cannot afford. Even more troubling, the terms of the settlement itself as well as everything about the nature of the process itself fail to demonstrate appropriate sensitivity to the economic hardships this increased tax burden would impose on elderly citizens living on fixed incomes as well as low-income younger taxpayers and their families who remain deprived of adequate economic opportunities in part because of the unaffordable state pension system, the high rates of taxation imposed to feed it, and the resulting negative consequences for the Ocean State’s economic competitiveness.


The GM Bailout and the Pawsox

The other day, somebody speaking favorably of moving the PawSox to Providence with a taxpayer “investment” cited the bailout of GM as an example of how taxpayers can actually get their money back from such activities.  As it happens, I was just clearing out some old bookmarks and came across this, from Conn Carroll on Townhall:

In his 2014 end of the year press conference, President Obama claimed that, “effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over. We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed.” (emphasis added)

And it is true: if you look at only the new money the Obama administration spent bailing out General Motors, Chrysler, and Ally Financial, taxpayers did get back “every dime” of that cash.

But that completely ignores the $17.4 billion President Bush promised General Motors and Chrysler in December 2008.

If you take the entire Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout into account, taxpayers spent a total of $79.7 billion on the auto bailout, received only $63.1 billion back, for a total loss of $16.6 billion.

It’d be nice if we all could start learning our lessons on this stuff.


Credit for Healthcare Initiatives

When you read the following, from today’s Providence Journal, who do you think ought to get credit for the innovation?

So with Governor Raimondo pushing her cost-cutting Reinventing Medicaid initiative, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island is eagerly touting what it says is the early success of a program begun just five months ago to address Medicaid subscribers with frequent and hefty medical bills.

Astute readers might pick up on the fact that the program began five months ago, which would mean the governor would have been implausibly dynamic to get it rolling, if it was possible at all.  Still, you should be forgiven if you finished the paragraph with the impression that Reinventing Medicaid is to credit.  How about this one?

Most states have not [advanced data and analytics to target high-cost insurance members], because of the intense partisanship over “Obamacare” and in some cases because of technical problems.

Instead, they rely on the federal HealthCare.gov website. Rhode Island, however, has its own health-care exchange, HealthSource RI.

So, maybe it’s HealthSource to credit, then.  But wait a moment:

The program has been in development for two years and is similar to other projects under way in the state, Trilla said. Given Reinventing Medicaid’s goals of targeting so-called “high utilizers,” he said that Health@Home has “ended up dovetailing nicely” with the governor’s efforts.

Two years ago would be May 2013, at which point HealthSource was still in development (based on wildly inflated projections).  That suggests this innovation was not driven by Governor Raimondo, and it was not driven by ObamaCare or HealthSource RI.  Rather, one can infer that it was driven by a private organization’s assessment of how it might better use its resources.

Maybe we can find our way to giving government some credit if Neighborhood’s innovation was inspired by the much-maligned Global Waiver program (to which Raimondo’s Reinventing Medicaid initiative bears some striking resemblance), but then the credit would have to go to Republican President Bush and Republican Governor Carcieri.  ObamaCare and Democrats actually hindered savings from that effort.


Political Outrage Rather than Community Interaction

Long-time readers may recall the time a local political activist managed to stoke up a phony scandal over some tweets of mine, when I was running for school committee in Tiverton.  Well, the same group has struck again.

A supporter of my petitioner’s budget, who is also a town council member, set up a display outside the town’s polls at the high school, Saturday morning, consisting of a replica military motorcycle with various accessories.  Leaning against it was a drill-dummy rifle with a helmet over its pretend muzzle.  Most people passing paid no attention to the display, and those who did were admiring.

Late in the day, somebody called the police, and at their request, the owner put the fake gun away.  Now the same group of political activists who went after me have cranked up the outrage machine with the help of the local news media.

I go into detail on Tiverton Fact Check, noting that similar outrage could be ginned up about the town council president smoking while campaigning for the other side.  Neither is an outrage, and neither should be leveraged to create scandal that does nothing to resolve the town’s challenges, but does much to make people feel that civic participation is not part of full involvement in the community, but rather that it’s a risky and dangerous (yet dull) duty best left to others.


The IRS, Media, Democrat Nexus

Eliana Johnson phrases her recent National Review Online article as if it nudges the controversy over the IRS’s Tea Party targeting in another direction, but I think it fills out the picture in exactly the way that most Tea Party types would expect.  Consider:

The targeting of tea-party groups traces back to February of 2010 when a low-level employee in the IRS’s Cincinnati office flagged a single file for his superior. In an e-mail written on February 25, 2010, Jack Koester, a revenue agent, told his boss, John Shafer, that “recent media attention” made the application at hand a “high-profile” case. In doing so, he was following the Internal Revenue Manual’s directive to agency personnel to elevate to senior managers cases that fall into several categories, including those “that are newsworthy, or that have the potential to become newsworthy.”

In a comprehensive analysis, Step #1 wasn’t the low-level employee’s flagging of the application.  Rather, it was the news media’s handling the Tea Party movement as a suspicious, controversial development.

Next, the flagged file worked its way up the ladder until it got to the political operatives at the top of the IRS.  In D.C., the issue took another step:

Once in Washington, the applications landed with a group of attorneys known in the IRS as tax-law specialists. The Internal Revenue Manual directs tax-law specialists to create what is known as a “sensitive-case report” if, among other possible criteria, the application “is likely to attract media or Congressional attention.”

Such judgement is subjective, of course, but one suspects that any individual Tea Party group’s application would have fallen well short of national media or Congressional attention.  Attention to a movement is quite different than, say, attention that might be paid to a specific charity created by a political family that has the potential to be used for laundering political donations.

That’s when the politics came into it:

Disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner didn’t become involved with the tea-party cases until May 13, 2010, when she received the sensitive-case report created by tax-law specialists in Washington. Then, in early 2011, Lerner ordered that the cases go through a “multi-tiered review” process, called the tea-party cases “very dangerous,” and reiterated, “Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”

It may not be the case that the Obama Administration had the idea, one day, to disrupt the development of the Tea Party movement with the IRS.  But when a biased news media had made backlash against President Obama’s policies a matter of national controversy, and when a Democrat-heavy bureaucracy had interpreted some individual manifestations of that backlash as “sensitive cases,” the idea arrived on the administration’s doorstep with ribbons and bows.

The partisan Democrats at the top of the chain (perhaps including the President) could have declined the opportunity in the name of freedom and the rule of law, but they didn’t.


Withstanding the Whispers

Musing about her experiences as conservativish libertarian (or maybe she’s a libertarianish conservative) in the world of sci-fi publishing, Sarah Hoyt touches on the insidious power of whisper campaigns:

Whisper campaigns are scary effective, because they can get in behind your rational thought. If someone told you to your face that I was a white supremacist and you’d met me and (particularly) my kids, you’d probably pee yourself laughing. BUT if the same info came to you whispered, as “Well, you know, her opinions on race are just nuts” or worse “of course, I disagree with her thing on race” – incredibly effective because it leaves you to make up in your own head how bad my opinions must be for someone to say just that.

There is also the corresponding difficulty of standing up to them:

It’s easier to cow most humans (social animals) with social ostracism than with death threats. There’s something heroic in standing up against a death threat while merely standing up against losing your job because of a whisper campaign calling you a poopy head looks slightly silly. Worse, because it’s a whisper campaign you’re never absolutely sure it’s not all in your head.

My experience in the whisper mill of Tiverton politics leads me to think Hoyt somewhat understates the problem.  Standing up to whisper campaigns isn’t merely difficult because the sense of something’s being juvenile too easily transfers from the whisperers to the self-defender.  Even if the subject matter is quite adult and serious, using means of communication that are likely to reach large numbers of people can seem defensive, especially if none of the whispers have been uttered loudly enough to hear in the public sphere.  Depending what the floating accusations are, the fact of a prominent response could even reinforce them.

Standing up, then, means continuing to do whatever it is that’s evoking the attacks while also continuing to go about your life, daring to live as if you aren’t a wicked, ostracized outsider.


Campaign Finance and Petty Tyranny

Let’s get one thing straight.

A group of town residents gets together to persuade their neighbors to vote for lower taxes at the local level.  They spend hours generating information to persuade and hours walking streets talking with people in the community and delivering literature.  They ask some friends for help covering the costs of things like printing and postage.

If you think this group of people ought to have to register with some bureaucrat in the state government and file reports about donations and expenditures, you do not believe in freedom of speech or freedom, generally.  You believe in tyranny, even if it’s only petty for the time being.  You believe in making it more difficult for the average citizen to affect his or her government and disadvantaging them in their fight against special interests and government insiders and ensuring that people on the government payroll (one way or another) are able to undermine any advantage that citizens might find.

It really is that simple.  You cannot believe in government of, by, and for the people and also believe that some government agent (making north of $75,000 per year, plus benefits, with pension promised) should be breathing down the necks of people who are trying to get control of their labor-union-dominated municipalities.

I bring this up because I received an email from Board of Elections Director of Campaign Finance Richard Thornton saying that “it has come to the attention of this office” that the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) “has been expending funds to support a position in the upcoming Tiverton Financial Town Referendum.”  I am not a board member of the TTA, so I did not respond.

However, I did opine on Twitter: “Received a friendly reminder from BOE about filing for local budget advocacy. Doesn’t apply, here, but even so, it’s absurdly undemocratic.”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Thornton emailed again asking for “clarification” of the meaning of my tweet.  I clarified as follows:

I wasn’t aware that the Board of Elections was monitoring my Twitter feed.  Have you friended me on Facebook, yet?  I’m on LinkedIn and Pinterest, too, by the way, although I don’t think my resume or pictures of things I’ve seen around Rhode Island are relevant, here.

I’m happy to affirm officially that I believe state-level campaign finance laws and regulations imposed on grassroots groups attempting to affect local ballot questions in their own communities are offensive and probably unconstitutional.

That said, I am not a board member of TTA and don’t know why you included me in your original email.  Strictly speaking, TTA has done no advocacy in this campaign, and certainly not enough to come anywhere near the threshold.

For my own advocacy, I hadn’t yet crossed the $1,000 threshold until (I think) today.  Although I find it obscene that I have to answer to the state for these purposes, I will file whatever documents are necessary.

Whether it’s me or the group opposing me, this is absurd.  Campaign finance is not some benign, feel-good civic altruism. It’s the camel’s nose of tyranny.


The Budget Fight in Tiverton

For those who take a keen interest in Tiverton politics, local politics in general, or seeing a town employee shout at me and threaten to “get in my face,” I’ve put up a number of posts on Tiverton Fact Check in recent weeks:

  • An explanation of the 0.9% budget (Budget #2) that I submitted.
  • Video clips of outbursts from Town Administrator Matthew Wojcik’s (a Cumberland resident and Republican) directed toward residents, including me.
  • A video clip of my explanation of the budget.
  • A review of misleading statements from town officials and activists at a one-sided infomercial that they produced for public-access television.
  • My letter to the editor describing the positive vision for Budget #2.
  • Some additional points to dispel the fear that the school committee will cancel plans to go to full-day kindergarten if they don’t get $126,000 that they don’t need.
  • A review of a falsehood promoted by Tiverton 1st coordinator Brian Medeiros that one of Tiverton’s many massive tax increases in recent years came because the town didn’t have money in its reserves to soften the blow of a reduced state reimbursement for the now-forgotten car-tax phase out.
  • An analysis of the misleading comparison of Portsmouth’s larger reserve fund to Tiverton’s (still very large) one.
  • An explanation of the utter falsehood pushed by Tiverton 1st in a mailer that went out to some residents.

The History of Rhode Island Crony Deals

Steven Frias had another excellent essay in the Providence Journal, yesterday:

Using funds raised through a refinancing of state debt, Raimondo proposes spending about $35 million, in total, for a First Wave Closing Fund, a Small Business Assistance Program and a I-195 Redevelopment Fund. The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission would have broad discretion over how these funds are be spent and over which businesses benefit. 

Supporters of Raimondo called these programs “bold” and “game-changing.” However, Rhode Island politicians have used various government financing programs to benefit select businesses for more than a half-century, with little success at reversing Rhode Island’s decline. History shows that the state’s efforts to select businesses for help have been, at best, ineffectual at improving the economy in the long-term, and at worst, disastrous for taxpayers.

I’ve been thinking that it would be useful to have an online museum exhibit, of sorts, that presents timelines of various controversies, themes, and trends, in Rhode Island.  Unfortunately, most of the people I know who would undertake such a project are busy trying to support their families while doing some work to try to save the state for itself.  Meanwhile, it’s hard to see an academic taking it on, because it would inevitably make big government look bad, which academics aren’t allowed to do.


Riots, Regimentation and Rhetoric

I am afraid that the third paragraph from the bottom of Wednesday’s E.J. Dionne column on the riots in Baltimore all-too-accurately reflects the state of elite thinking in America, and not in a good way…

[William Julius Wilson] offered a central truth: “Regular employment provides the anchor for the spatial and temporal aspects of daily life. It determines where you are going to be and when you are going to be there. In the absence of regular employment, life, including family life, becomes less coherent.”

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking, where the idea that people who agree upon some bigger meanings in life can work together to build something is replaced by an idea that people cannot find meaning until they’ve first been regimented, seems to have become the dominant philosophy of a wide swath of a “respectable” political elite who, for various reasons, are unable to articulate anything beyond a few economic platitudes when discussing what a society should aspire to (e.g. “Let’s get Rhode Island back to work“), and who assume everything else takes care of itself, if government can be made to function as the comprehensive human-resources bureaucracy for everyone.

Or am I reading to much into E.J. Dionne seeing something profound in William Julius Wilson’s statement above?


Electing a New Electorate

In the popular imagination, political coups involve military action, long knives in the night, or some other form of violence, but the Obama Administration and the Democrat Party are arguably working to do the same thing by flooding the electorate with ineligible voters:

Non-citizens are voting in American elections, and the federal government refuses to do anything to stop it.

Worse, the current administration seems to be doing everything they can to prevent the states from trying to stop it. First, they sued states that asked people to present ID before voting. Now, the administration will not let states even ask people to establish they are citizens when they register to vote. …

… Noncitizens are offered the voter registration forms all over the country and are filling them out, and they are being added to the rollsregardless of which [citizenship] box they check.

Add it to the growing evidence of dawning fascism.


Taxing the Privilege of Owning Property Might Have to Wait

I’m slow to mention this, so readers have likely seen it, but it’s worth marking down Ian Donnis’s RIPR post for the record:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello wants to eliminate the “Taylor Swift tax”  — Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed statewide property tax on vacation homes worth more than $1 million.

“I’m hoping that the revenues are there to eliminate that,” Mattiello said during a taping Thursday of Rhode Island Public Radio’s Political Roundtable. “You could look to see that eliminated. I agree with the public sentiment that you don’t open the door to a new tax, because it’s just going to expand in the future, so that’s something that I’m really looking to eliminate.”

Mattiello added, “I don’t want to speak for her, but I believe the governor concurs with that at this point, and we’re doing that collaboratively.”

Of course, before the governor announced her budget, we knew that the state’s revenue was running higher than the estimates that she was required to use for her budget.  It was therefore predictable that there would be items that would be easy to pick off.

Perhaps the policy and politics folks in the governor’s office figured they might as well use that fact in order to make budget feints, shoring up progressive support by going after The Rich and letting Mattiello take the heat (and opposing rewards) for removing the absurd policy.

If that was the plan, though, I have to wonder whether this particular one wasn’t a bit of a fumble.  The association with a pop star blew the proposed tax up from a local story to a national one, adding to the narrative that holds Rhode Island to be anti-business and generally anti-success.  Even just locally, though, the proposal might have cost Raimondo the last benefit of the doubt that more-conservative Rhode Islanders might still have been giving the former general treasurer for attacking pension reform.

(Naturally, I still prefer to believe that it was the parody song that did it.)


Press Conference To Oppose Taxpayer Funded Stadium Tomorrow at 3:45 pm; Meanwhile, PawSox Graciously Offer to Buy the Land

As you may have heard, tomorrow at 4:00 pm, the Commerce Corporation (formerly the EDC) will meet to hear a proposal from the PawSox for locating a baseball stadium in Providence — and what they want from state and Providence taxpayers to do so.

Almost simultaneously, all of the organizations and individuals* opposing the PawSox proposal will be holding a press conference — right outside of the building where the Commerce Corporation will be meeting with the PawSox. In the event you are able, please stop by. It will kick off at around 3:45 pm. Below is the address of the Commerce Corporation, where the meeting will be taking place inside and the press conference opposing will be taking place outside.

315 Iron Horse Way
Providence, RI 02908

Helpful tip: should you need directions from Mapquest or Google, as I did, be sure to enter “555 Valley Street, Providence” instead.

So the latest development is that the PawSox have offered to purchase from the state the prime, waterfront land upon which they propose to build, largely if not exclusively at taxpayer expense, a baseball stadium.

They presumably still want $4 million/year from state taxpayers. (They have, remarkably and not very credibly, actually increased their estimate of offsetting tax revenue to the state from $2 million to $2.4 million/year. Let’s remember that, while the tax revenue from the stadium is a pure guess … er, projection, the $4 million/year from the taxpayers to the owners of the PawSox would be a firm obligation.) And they’d presumably still like to be relieved of the obligation to pay property taxes, an obligation that Providence Council President Aponte quickly tried to shift to state taxpayers.

Even WITH the PawSox offer to purchase the land, these constitute remarkably aggressive terms for a use whose seasonal nature prima facie limits its potential for economic activity.

In a way, the PawSox proposal is worse than 38 Studios. As WPRO’s John Loughlin pointed out, 38 Studios was a Hail Mary pass. But a Hail Mary pass has some chance, however remote, of succeeding. With this stadium, EVERYONE, including our elected officials, KNOWS UP FRONT that it would be a financial loser for taxpayers.

We all very much want the Pawtucket Red Sox to stay in Rhode Island, if not Pawtucket. But the price has turned out to be very high, indeed. No one has made a remotely rational case as to why, in the face of red budget ink as far as the eye can see, our elected officials, on behalf of state taxpayers, should take on yet another economic development loss leader like the Convention Center Authority.

We cannot easily divest ourselves of that $15 million/year net loss. But for heavens sake, we also don’t need to knowingly add another $2 – $4 million/year into that budget column.


Tiverton Casino, 2 of 20 Things to Know

Ian Donnis’s weekly TGIF column highlights Twin River’s plans for a casino in Tiverton twice, once from the state’s perspective, and once from the town’s:

The parent company of Twin River may have pulled an ace when it unveiled a plan Monday to transfer gambling from Newport Grand and expand it at a new site on 45 undeveloped acres in northern Tiverton, a dice throw from the Massachusetts border. With Newport remaining unwilling to add table games, a so-called convenience casino in Tiverton may be the most pragmatic option for protecting Rhode Island’s third-largest source of state revenue.

The local perspective comes via a “dispatch” from me, which Ian juxtaposes with John Loughlin’s comments.

I’d only add this, after another day of conversations: The casino proposal appears to be much less controversial, locally, than the Tiverton Glen “multi-use development” proposed a few miles south on the highway.


Union Firefighter Intimidation Tactics in Warwick

As reported by John Howell at the Warwick Beacon:

CVS Health has found no wrongdoing on the part of one of its employees, former Ward 1 councilman and former chairman of the Warwick School Committee Robert Cushman, in response to demands by the president of the Warwick Firefighters Union.

The union’s president, William Lloyd, threatened a statewide – followed by a national – boycott of the pharmacy chain because of Cushman, a full-time business analyst with the company.

Cushman has been critical of the firefighter and police pension liabilities faced by the city. Firefighters have questioned Cushman’s credentials.

In an email Tuesday, CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis released the following statement: “After investigating this matter, we determined that Mr. Cushman did not claim to be representing CVS Health or speaking on behalf of the Company when he exercised his rights as a private citizen at a public meeting in his hometown.”

The email continues: “As such, we have no position on his comments. We believe the IAFF Local 2748’s call for a boycott of CVS/pharmacy is misplaced and not warranted. We have a strong track record of supporting emergency responders, and we appreciate all they do to protect our communities.”

Cushman said CVS executives brought Lloyd’s email to his attention more than a month ago. He said the company questioned him, and reviewed tapes of a presentation he made to the City Council in December. Cushman said he was later shown a copy of the CVS reply, which according to DeAngelis closely followed the statement released to the Beacon.

DeAngelis did not feel it proper to release Lloyd’s email to the paper. Cushman did not have a copy.

In an interview yesterday, Lloyd said the letter that was addressed to DeAngelis never called for Cushman’s dismissal, but that because Cushman is an employee “we would not be using CVS anymore.”

“I never made a threat against his job,” Lloyd said. “I never said anything about getting Bob Cushman fired.”

Lloyd said a boycott was not a singular decision, and that the union unanimously voted for it.

“A vote taken by all members, it wasn’t me just spouting off,” he said.

Nevertheless, message sent, no?