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Demagoguing Pre-Existing Conditions

Rich Lowry gives an explanation, in the New York Post, of why the fear mongering about the American Health Care Act (AHCA)’s effects on those with pre-existing conditions is yet another manufactured outrage:

The perversity of it all is that the legislation is properly understood as doing more to preserve the ObamaCare regulation on pre-existing conditions than to undermine it. The legislation maintains a federal baseline of protection in such cases, and says only that states can apply for a waiver from it, provided that they abide by certain conditions meant to ensure that no one is left out in the cold.

Since these provisions only involve the individual insurance market, a small slice of the overall insurance picture (about 18 million are on the individual market), and merely make possible state waivers, they are inherently limited.

You’re not affected if you get insurance through your employer (155 million people), or through Medicaid or Medicare. You’re not affected if you live in a state that doesn’t request the waiver, a category that will certainly include every blue state and most red states, too. Even if you buy insurance on the individual market and live in a state that gets a waiver, you’re not affected if you’ve maintained insurance coverage continuously and not had a gap in coverage longer than 63 days.

By this point, we’re talking about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population. If you do have a pre-existing condition in a waiver state and haven’t had continuous coverage, you can be charged more by your insurer only the first year. The state will have access to $8 billion in federal funds explicitly to ease the cost of your insurance, and the state must further have a high-risk pool or similar program to mitigate insurance costs for the sick.

People who oppose these sorts of measures — especially with as much heat and smoke as we’ve been seeing related to the AHCA — give the appearance of elevating their own access to power above any real policy consideration.

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What Do Non-Rhode Islanders Care About a State Rep or Lieutenant Governor

Pondering why a young, still-new state representative from Rhode Island would have $128,000 sitting around in campaign donations, I thought I’d run his name through Rhode Island’s campaign finance search tool.  Regunberg is reportedly considering a run for lieutenant governor, which anybody who watches Rhode Island politics knows is essentially a political holding spot by which to live off of taxpayers while gathering media attention in preparation for a more-significant office, a political appointment, or some sort of private-sector payoff.

That being the case, why has 51% (i.e., a majority) of Regunberg’s campaign cash, gathered since he started collecting it in 2014, come from beyond the borders of Rhode Island?  The average Rhode Island donor has given him $273, while the average non-Rhode Island donor has given him $582.  What are the donors hoping to get for their money?

For some comparison, consider Regunberg’s fellow legislator House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who has collected fully 94% of her campaign money from within the Ocean State.  Moreover, Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $277, while non-Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $197.  Alternately, look at Regunberg’s fellow Democrat, current Lieutenant Governor (and former Cumberland Mayor) Dan McKee.  His in-state percentage for money is 85%, with RI donations averaging $261 and non-RI donations averaging $343.

There are two possibilities, with both probably playing a role:

  • As we’re seeing with our current governor, out-of-state Regunberg donors may be interested in pushing their nationally focused agenda within Rhode Island, or
  • they may see Rhode Island as one of the increasingly limited staging grounds for left-wing politicians.

In neither of those cases should we expect the well-being of Rhode Islanders as Rhode Islanders to be the top priority of the donor, and we can reasonably wonder how much weight Rhode Islanders’ well-being will have on the politician’s scales as he makes decisions when in office.

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No Health Policy Is Perfect, but Remember Both Sides

Mary Katharine Ham makes a critical point as we all debate (make that, “debate”) health care policy:

Arguing about this as if beneficiaries of ACA don’t exist isn’t right. Arguing about it as if people like me don’t is also not right. ACA was never the panacea it was sold as and it remains distinctly un-utopian in its results. Lazy characterizations of things you like as perfect—and of people you oppose as big fans of people dying—are not particularly helpful to actual people.

So if you’re weaving a utopian or dystopian scenario for Facebook, remember reality is almost always less extreme and more nuanced than you’re asserting, and you probably know a real human on both sides of every imperfect adjustment to our Frankenstein system.

That’s the level at which policy debates ought to be conducted, and it would be true to say that both sides have people who reach that level and people who decidedly do not.  It’s vertigo-inducing to watch the speed at which we go from a mainstream with no major concerns about the wholly partisan, parliamentarily manipulated, nature of ObamaCare to, for example, a Democrat Congressman’s proclaiming that overhauling health care shouldn’t be done in a partisan way.  (It’s like that childhood friend who would keep breaking the rules of a game and then saying that they would apply from that point forward.)

To get to that point, one must ignore the past, and in the case of ObamaCare, it means ignoring people who have been harmed, not to mention the long-term harm to our health care system and economy.  Somehow, we have to see the self-interested partisan talking points and get to the question of which direction policy should actually go.

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Disconnect Between Health Care Rhetoric and Reality

So it seems that Rhode Island and national Democrats have decided that the outrage machine must remain dialed up to 11.  Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline has proclaimed that Congress would kill “tens of thousands of Americans” if it passed the Republican health care bill.  (Put aside evidence that ObamaCare’s already tallying the deaths.)  Democrat governor of Rhode Island Gina (everybody calls me “gov”) Raimondo insists that the bill would strip families of health care coverage.

Meanwhile, as WPRI’s Ted Nesi reports, Care New England hospitals are losing money and struggling under ObamaCare:

The $26-million operating loss for the winter quarter, Beardsworth said, “further tells the story we have been very candid about – decreases in patient volume, a worsening payer mix, changing health care needs of the population, and extremely restrictive reimbursement caps in place through the state health insurance commissioner’s office.”

The payer mix refers to what share of hospital bills are paid for by different commercial and government insurers. In Care New England’s case, more of its revenue is coming from Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for low-income people, and Neighborhood Health Plan; it says both pay less than Blue Cross & Blue Shield. The hospital group’s management attribute the shift to the Obama health law, which President Trump is now seeking to overhaul.

And not to be outdone, insurers around the country are beginning to be more vehement in warning that ObamaCare may have entered the much-warned-about “death spiral.”

Of course, many have suspected that a death spiral leading to full government control of health care was the underlying plan of ObamaCare all along.  So those now squawking are trying to score political points (and out-of-state donations, no doubt) while preventing Republicans from doing just e-pitiful-nough to keep American health care from fainting fully into the arms of the government vampire.

In a state with no political pull within the national Republican Party (i.e., the party in power), it seems politicians’ time would be better spent trying to figure out how to handle any changes that come along than jumping on this week’s excuse for stoking a “resistance.”

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What Are Raimondo Campaign Donors Buying from Out of State?

Shortly after adding the certification of school bus drivers to my running list of tasks at which Rhode Island government is failing, my morning reading brought to my attention multiple articles about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s big fundraising take in the first quarter of this calendar year.  Here’s WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

Raimondo continues to demonstrate a fundraising prowess rarely seen in Rhode Island politics, having raised nearly $3 million since becoming governor and millions more before that when she was general treasurer. The state’s last two-term governor, Republican Don Carcieri, had about $275,000 on hand at the same point during his third year in office.

Want a fun fact?  According to the helpful spreadsheets that one can download from the state’s campaign finance search tool, so far in 2017, only 31% of the $570,110 the governor has raised came from people with addresses within Rhode Island.  That does represent a little bit of a change.  Going back to 2009 (the earliest available for her) brings Raimondo’s in-state percentage up to 51%.  Over those seven-plus years, by the way, the governor of Rhode Island has averaged a $541 donation from people out of state, but only $406 from donors in the state.

For comparison’s sake, Cranston’s Republican Mayor Allan Fung, presumed to be Raimondo’s most likely GOP challenger in 2018, has collected 99% of his $30,109 campaign donations so far in 2017 from people with in-state addresses.  If it seems unfair to compare a governor with a mayor, turn to the fundraising record of former Republican Governor Donald Carcieri.  He raised 89% of all of his campaign money from people in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island donors gave him an average $427 donation, versus $397 from each out-of-state-donor.

So what are Raimondo’s out-of-state donors buying with their money?  I’m sure their motivations are manifold, but I can’t help but notice that Wexford Science & Technology is back in the news, having received approval for $13.5 million in taxpayer incentives to do business in RI.  As I highlighted back in December, the interactions of Wexford, the Brookings Institution, and other private organizations are certainly, let’s say, interesting, as is the overlap with Raimondo’s donor base.

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Well, RI Does Love Passing Laws for Emotional and Political Reasons

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the get-right-to-the-point title, “Tuition-Free College Is Nothing More Than a Political Ploy,” Allysia Finley suggests real motivation is Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo’s presidential aspirations.  She also suggests another topic that merits some careful research before Rhode Island jumps on the bandwagon:

Promising free tuition could steer more students to public schools from private ones. The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York estimates Gov. Cuomo’s plan would boost enrollment at public colleges by 116,000 while reducing the head count at nonprofit schools by 11%. The declines would be particularly acute at small, less selective colleges. For-profit schools would be pinched, too.

According to the commission’s analysis, the plan would shift $1.4 billion away from nonprofit colleges, resulting in 45,000 job losses. Compensating jobs would be created at public schools, but dislocations would invariably occur. “Once this is out there and implemented, possibly some of the more precarious institutions will go under,” Gary Olson, president of Daemen College, told Inside Higher Ed. “And what that will do is cause millions of dollars of lost economic impact on the local community where the college is located.”

Yes, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities sounds like an interested party, but our society is supposed to work by pitting such interests against each other for the public’s edification.  Perhaps one of Rhode Island’s problems is that it isn’t big enough for collective voices to emerge, even as politicians have enough power to make individual institutions wary of crossing them.

In that, Rhode Island an excellent case study in the danger of big government.  When your economy depends on the ability to procure special deals from the government, the incentive is to not advocate for your interests publicly, which leaves the public uninformed for votes.

Anyway, if Rhode Island’s non-government institutions of higher learning are too besotted or timid to argue their own interests, mark this down as another reason the General Assembly should pass the “free tuition” idea along for a study commission that might draw some real evidence out of the still waters of public discourse.

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Having Enough Sense to Come in Out of the Rain

Reading about Rhode Island’s obligatory branch of the “March for Science,” I couldn’t help but think of this scene from the classic philosophical work, Big Trouble in Little China.

A brave man (or a left-wing ideologue) may like the feel of nature on his face, but there’s something humorous about the idea of people with saturated political signs standing in the rain for an hour and a half listening to speeches about the importance of learning the lessons of science.  Jacqueline Tempera’s credulous reporting for the Providence Journal only adds to the humor:

After about an hour and a half of speeches, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott from the Rhode Island Department of Health ended the program with a strong message.

“This is more than bad policy,” she said. “This is a profound environmental injustice that will have the biggest impact on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Before the reader can even get to wondering whether Tempera believes “strong message” is an objective phrase or is just cheering on her political allies, the absolute absence of context for the “strong statement” — from a state employee making an overtly political statement — captures the event to perfection.

What is “more than bad policy”?  We don’t know, and one suspects the Puddle-Jumpers for Science don’t either.

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The Right Track for Those Who Stay

Ted Nesi highlights something in the recent Hassenfeld Institute poll that may be worth a deeper investigation:

The poll also showed that for the first time in years, more Rhode Islanders think the state is moving in the right direction than in the wrong direction, with 42% of voters saying it’s headed in the right direction, 36% saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, and 16% unsure.

Nesi combines the Hassenfeld results from the last couple of years with prior polls asking the same question on WPRI’s behalf to show that Rhode Islanders’ outlook has improved since 2010, when it was about 70% wrong track, 12% right track, to statistically even, now, at around 40%.

I wonder what effect population change has had on these numbers.  Every year for the past 12, something like 20,000 to 30,000 Rhode Islanders have left for other states.  Smaller numbers of people have moved here from other states.  Over a decade, though, that’s an exchange or loss of about one-quarter of the whole population.  If we assume people coming will have a more positive view than those leaving, that could have a big effect on a question like right-track/wrong-track.

It’d be interesting if pollsters would start asking how long survey respondents have lived in Rhode Island.  The cross-tabs might be telling.  New arrivals might skew the results positive, or those who’ve been here a while might be comparing our current stagnation with the huge deterioration of the last decade.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 4: Flanders in the Outside Lane, Ruggerio on the Inside

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were Robert Flanders’s play for the U.S. Senate, Raimondo’s tuition talking point, and Dominick Ruggerio’s insider senate presidency.
Click full post for audio.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 11, at 2:00 p.m.

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“Free Tuition” Makes Suckers of Us All

I’ve got the “con” side of a Providence Journal commentary-page presentation of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s college tuition proposal, today:

The typical transition of students to adulthood goes something like this: Children begin attending public school in kindergarten (or earlier) and graduate with diplomas at the end of the 12th grade. Depending on their interests, aptitude and resources, they will either begin working, pursue vocational training or enter college. These decisions are all highly personal and represent only the beginning of a long life in the productive labor force.

In general, where is Rhode Island going wrong for its young folks in this story?

Hint: It isn’t the lack of opportunities for insiders to buy votes or take more money from taxpayers.

On the “pro” side is Deval Patrick who (as one might expect of a politician) tries to take credit for his state’s long slog toward health, proclaiming that “in many ways, from the perspective of a shifting economy, Rhode Island today looks like Massachusetts did 10 years ago.”  Umm.  Massachusetts’s Prop 2 1/2 tax reform went into effect in the early ’80s.  The Bay State’s education reforms were implemented in the early ’90s.  On that count, as I’ve written before, Patrick’s capitulation to the teachers’ unions placed a political ceiling on Massachusetts’s progress, and its standardized scores haven’t improved.

Raimondo’s got the front-page plastered with her face under the headline, “The Raimondo Brand: Nation’s top Democrats tout R.I. governor as icon of party’s ideals.”  If that’s true, the national party is gambling a great deal on the governor’s phony self promotion.  I end my op-ed quoting from Crimetown and suggesting that “free tuition” both compromises its beneficiaries morally and makes us all suckers.  One suspects a national audience won’t be as inclined to ignore the utter failures of Rhode Island government, nor be impressed with the numbers games of its “reforms,” nor desire to emulate the policies of a governor under whom employment growth has almost entirely stopped.

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RIGOP Blessing and Curse: Straight Line from Nowhere to the Top

The first thing one sees upon picking up the Newport Daily News today is a stock photo of me next to the quotation:

You can go straight from doing nothing to running for U.S. Senate on the Republican side because there are so few people involved.

I was one of a half-dozen Republicans and conservatives whom Derek Gomes interviewed for an article about Republicans in the state, to complement a recent one about Democrats.  (Unfortunately, the article isn’t online for non-subscribers.)

One part of my extended statement to Gomes that I wish had made the cut was a benefit to being out of power:  The RIGOP has no influence to sell, so people tend to be involved for the right reasons, and the odds of corruption are lower.

I also wish the article had gone into some of the other topics Gomes asked me about.  He quotes Young Republican Barbara Ann Fenton as saying that Rhode Island Republicans are socially liberal, compared to the party nationally.  I’d suggested in my interview that that might be part of the problem.  The unanimous support for same-sex marriage, for example, is why I am (as Gomes notes) “a conservative but not a registered Republican.”

As a worldview, socially liberal and fiscally conservative is untenable, at least inasmuch as we acknowledge a responsibility to help the less fortunate.  Part of our solution for those folks must be to help build a healthier society overall.  If (for example) the “fiscally conservative” solution is simply to rely on private charity, it’s difficult to make the case that we shouldn’t just make our charity compulsory through taxation.

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PawSox and the Way Rhode Island Doesn’t Work

Reading up on the matter of the Pawtucket Red Sox and their search for a better stadium, as well as on the new Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, North Providence), something jumped out at me.  Here’s Ethan Shorey reporting on Ruggerio’s elevation to president in The Valley Breeze:

Given the fact that Providence and North Providence have two of the highest car tax rates in the state, Ruggerio said one of his top priorities is reducing or eliminating the state’s car tax.

As we all know, the person who made elimination of the car tax a major issue this year was Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston), who — it needn’t be said — has a lot of influence over whether Ruggerio is able to move his own priorities.

Now here’s Patrick Anderson reporting in the Providence Journal on Ruggerio’s support for public funding of some sort of major project benefiting the PawSox:

Ruggerio said [Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry] Lucchino did not present him with a specific request for state funds or identify a stadium site. He said those specifics are being negotiated with representatives of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration.

Doesn’t it seem like these multi-million-dollar matters are ultimately decided by a handful of politicians, each of whom has a self-interested agenda….

  • Mattiello to make his House seat more secure
  • Raimondo to pave the way for reelection and moving up in national politics
  • Ruggerio for some other reason, perhaps benefiting the labor union for which he works

… and basically negotiating for those reasons how they should distribute other people’s money?

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Who Ordered the Code Red, Smoking Gun

This Eli Lake article from Bloomberg seems like kind of a big deal.  I wonder how much we’ll actually hear about it from the news media:

White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Rice, you may recall, was the primary face of the Obama Administration’s like about the background of the Benghazi attack.  Things get stranger, too:

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

Why would the White House General Counsel order this research stopped?  Were Obama holdovers still calling the shots, or was there some other reason?

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The Tyranny of the “Right Thing to Do”

A recent Investors Business Daily editorial lays out the fiscal circumstances wrought by our profligate government and points to a more socio-political problem that affects us at the state level, too:

So 75 cents of every dollar the government collects will go to those three programs[, Social Security, Medicare, and disability]. That doesn’t leave much room for stuff like defense, infrastructure and all the other things government now does. And our national politics will turn into a long, vicious battle between those who get checks from the government, and those who don’t. It won’t be pretty.

Rhode Island and its municipalities already experience that “long, vicious battle,” although it’s tempered by the fact that those on the losing end (that is, taxpayers who pay more in than they take out) can just leave the state.

That fact requires those who get the government checks or collect services in excess of their contributions to have the presence of mind to reduce the taking in order to avoid calamity.  Watching local and state politics as I do, I’m not confident that people behave so rationally.  Until crisis hits, it’s much too easy to ignore problems and justify one’s actions for emotional or ideological reasons.

This struck me while listening to East Bay Democrat Senator Lou DiPalma on RIPR’s “Political Roundtable” and the associated “Q&A.”  Lou’s a smart guy with an interest in understanding facts, but genuine concern and a practical bent simply don’t rank against that insidious phrase that he repeats several times about “the right thing to do.”  By the end, that phrase becomes a talisman for him, warding away wicked objections.

One can tell that the senator determines what that “right thing” is first and then applies practicality to rationalize it and then get it done, sidestepping questions about broader effects and government’s legitimate role.  Is it “the right thing to do” to insinuate government into every area of our lives and to make it so difficult to advance in this state that families suffer and leave?

I wouldn’t say so.

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Wait, Who Runs the Intelligence Committee?

I don’t have much of note to say about this, but it struck me as odd.  This is the Providence Journal’s presentation of a Bloomberg article by Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm and Billy House.  Here’s the headline and lede:

Investigators: Details needed before Flynn gets immunity
Rep. Adam Schiff says he’ll discuss Flynn’s offer with Senate Intelligence Committee, Justice Department

Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the committee, but the article doesn’t even mention Republican Devin Nunes of California, who is the chairman of the committee.  Doesn’t that seem odd?

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Weird Absence in the Notes

An obvious point is oddly missing from Ted Nesi’s Notes item on the possible Republican campaign of Robert Flanders for U.S. Senate:

His announcement that he’s exploring a 2018 U.S. Senate run against Sheldon Whitehouse, first reported by the indefatigable Kathy Gregg, had the Rhode Island political class chattering all week. Flanders told me he isn’t doing interviews yet, but suggested in a statement he’d be “a senator that works with Republicans, Democrats, and independents to promote practical solutions.” The former judge is no fool, so he knows the tough odds he’d face – the last time a Republican not named Chafee won a Rhode Island U.S. Senate race was 1930. Flanders would have a number of advantages, including his intellect and a robust Rolodex to tap for donations, which is why some local Republicans are enthusiastic about his chances. He also has some disadvantages: the deep pension cuts he approved as Central Falls’ receiver are ripe for negative TV ads, and President Trump’s unpopularity could allow Whitehouse to effectively rerun his 2006 campaign, which was technically against Linc Chafee but really against George W. Bush. Flanders says he’ll make a final decision “over the next several months.”

Know what I mean?  Maybe this, from an item farther down in Nesi’s column, will help:

Two Rhode Islanders who did not visit Trump, however, are Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse – both men skipped a White House dinner for senators the president held on Tuesday night.

Sure, Trump is unpopular in Rhode Island (particularly in those circles with which journalists have the most interaction), but even people who don’t like the president, if they’re just a little pragmatic, can see the advantage of having at least one of our four federal legislators be from the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.  The question, then, is whether the Republicans, pragmatic Democrats, and friends of Flanders can outnumber those who like the fact that Whitehouse repeatedly stands out as an especially radical and aggressive voice in the party out of power.

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Breaking – Former RI Supreme Court Justice Flanders Exploring Run for US Senate

Well, things just heated up in Rhode Island’s 2018 race for US Senate. Kathy Gregg has the scoop in the Providence Journal.

Robert G. Flanders, a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, respected Providence trial lawyer and onetime Brown University football star, has taken the first step toward a potential GOP run for the U.S. Senate against two-term Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse.

This is somewhat out of the blue: rumors where that Justice Flanders was considering, at the urging of RIGOP Chair Brandon Bell, a run for Governor. Justice Flanders isn’t technically announcing his candidacy, as Gregg notes, but rather, he

plans to create an “exploratory committee” to determine whether he will be able to muster the money and support he would need for a potential GOP primary fight and, ultimately, a 2018 run against Whitehouse.

He is certainly clear as to why he sees the need to run, however, as he indicates to Gregg in a statement that includes a nice little zing at the incumbent.

“With the unease and hyper-partisan political environment in Washington,” Flanders said, Rhode Island needs a U.S. senator who “will work across the aisle to unlock innovation and job growth, provide a system of high quality and affordable health care, reform unfair and anti-competitive tax policies, lift regulatory burdens off the backs of small business, promote better education and enhance our security by restoring global confidence in America.”

“In short, we need a climate change in Washington,” he said in a play-on-words on Whitehouse’s signature issue.

If his candidacy is a go, he will first face off in a primary against State Representative Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Coventry).

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Did Russia Learn from the Pros?

This Wall Street Journal article by Joe Parkinson and Georgi Kantchev shows more than the willingness of Russia to meddle in foreign elections:

In the run-up to presidential elections in Bulgaria last year, the country’s opposition Socialist Party received a secret strategy document proposing a road map to victory at the ballot box, according to five current or former Bulgarian officials.

Among its recommendations: plant fake news and promote exaggerated polling data.

The source of the roughly 30-page dossier, intercepted by Bulgaria’s security service, was a think tank connected to the Kremlin, according to the officials. It was delivered by a former Russian spy on a U.S. sanctions list, three of them said.

Investigators should peruse the internal documents of the national Democrat Party and correspondence of mainstream media’s JournoList.  They might find that the Russians are also guilty of plagiarism, because the tactics described above look awfully familiar.

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