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Some Quick Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Flake Delay

Yes, if you’re a conservative or Republican, the delay in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is frustrating.  Whether it’s the case or not, the Left’s strategy of trapping a Senator in the elevator and yelling at him seems to have bought more time, following more time bought with unproven accusations and political theater.  That this new low for our politics has been rewarded is a problem.  If it succeeds in keeping this U.S. Senate from appointing a Supreme Court justice, the reward — and the incentive to repeat the behavior — will be hugely amplified.

Just last night, after the Democrats’ behavior, the Republican base seemed to be awakening, and anecdotal evidence suggested moderates were beginning to pay attention, too.  If Senator Flake’s delay this stops the Kavanaugh appointment, I agree with those who predict that the Republicans’ base will take it out on them, not the culprit Democrats.

That said, the Republicans presumably have pulled Kavanaugh aside and asked, “Just so we know, there are absolutely no surprises to be found, right?”  That would mean that anything that does come up will be either a complete surprise or an unbelievable fabrication.  The first of these is unlikely but would reshuffle the political deck too dramatically to predict, and the second probably won’t change the dynamic much.  Who knows but that Republicans have reason to believe that exculpatory evidence exists, perhaps with one of the men who’ve already come forward to suggest that he was the teenage culprit, not Kavanaugh, and the consequence of the Flake delay will fall on that guy.

If the most likely version of the above turns out to be the case, what we’re about to see is another week of the Democrats and the Left behaving like scary, irrational nuts, followed with an FBI report that makes the whole thing seem like the overkill that it appears to be, followed by continued Democrat intransigence, followed by even more public dissatisfaction with the Democrats as we inch closer and closer to the election.

On the other hand, the FBI can no longer be trusted to be impartial… or competent.  So, the agency may produce an outcome that only throws more grease on the national dumpster fire and leaves us with another week of nail biting political twists concerning a high school incident that nobody would have treated with this much gravity a short while ago, even if it had been recent.

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Whom Elected Officials Really Represent

Snippets from the AFL-CIO’s endorsement meeting leave no doubt that Rhode Islanders generally have scant representation when our supposed representatives negotiate with labor unions:

Seeking the blessing of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education Convention this past Wednesday, elected officials came bearing their own visions of a better world for workers.

If reelected, Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to raise the minimum wage “again and again and again.”

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’d help combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision by working on legislation to keep government-employee information out of the hands of union-disaffiliation campaigners.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a high-placed Laborers’ International Union official until last year, vowed to work on bills that would allow public-sector unions to stop representing non-members. (State lawmakers this year passed a bill letting police and fire unions do this, but legislation allowing it across government stalled.)

As Providence Journal reporters Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg put it, to the labor unions, “all of Rhode Island is a future job site.”  Implied is that this perspective leaves government as the mechanism that is able to take money and land and hand it over.  Raimondo would burden our economy.  Magaziner — inexplicably, if one believes his role is to steward taxpayer funds — wants to throw obstacles in the path of those who would help employees to be more independent.  And Ruggerio is intent on lightening unions’ burden while maintaining their near monopoly on employment with government.

By comparison, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s only promise appears to be that he is no longer in favor of right to work laws.  That’s bad enough, but it’s a far cry from a pledge to shape the laws of our land in the unions’ favor even more than they already are.  Interestingly, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is not mentioned in the article.

Two questions arising from the article:

  • Why did “just the phrase ‘right to work'” trigger “tense words between firefighters and building trades workers”?
  • Why didn’t the Providence Journal reporters note that they are members of the AFL-CIO, and did they vote on the endorsements?
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The Audience for Raimondo’s Errors

Readers of this site have probably heard that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has begun the general election campaign with a trademark Raimondo move: an unnecessary error.  Her first attack ad against Republican Allan Fung shows a neighborhood in Providence while claiming that he’s done a poor job as the mayor of Cranston:

Faulty video footage in a commercial is once again causing headaches for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Fresh off her primary victory last night, Raimondo’s campaign began airing an attack ad Thursday morning that criticizes Republican nominee Allan Fung for his record as mayor of Cranston, showing pictures of rundown buildings in a hard-knock neighborhood.

There’s just one problem: those streets are in the Silver Lake section of Providence, not Cranston – as the Fung campaign was quick to point out, and follow-up visits by reporters confirmed.

The only way to characterize this mistake is as an embarrassment.  She’s the governor of the state.  She’s a Providence resident.  Yet, her campaign can’t identify the border of her home city from the one next door.

That said, commentators are missing an important consideration:  It probably doesn’t matter to Raimondo’s target audiences that the video got it wrong.  They’ll assume Raimondo’s broader claim is true and that a camera crew could have found a run-down neighborhood in Cranston (as it could find one in any city).

For Raimondo, an ad attacking Fung’s management record is targeted a Rhode Islanders (and non–Rhode Islanders) who don’t know, themselves, where Providence ends and Cranston begins.  They’re people who get their news more from national sources, which still tout Raimondo as some sort of reform moderate, than from local TV.

Simply the fact that Raimondo would OK an ad casting aspersions at an urban community within the state that she governs gives a sense of her audience.  She’s assuming that potential voters who might take offense are already locked in by social policies or government give-aways, like universal pre-K.  This ad is for people who want some reason to believe that they can discount her opponent’s management experience.

Whether they’ll take the ad’s sloppiness as (further) evidence of Raimondo’s poor management skills, perhaps we’ll learn in November.

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Bending the Arc Away from Google

My default is always to assume against direct conspiracies; individual incentives and human nature are usually enough to explain seemingly coordinated action without presuming some conscious cabal.  But, I mean, come on:

A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe.

I haven’t watched the whole hour-long discussion, but even on a skim of the content one can see that some of the executives made no effort to distinguish “we” from the Clinton campaign, and it isn’t at all clear that the repeated pledge to use the company’s vast resources to advance “our values” isn’t a promise of political activism.  More disturbing, though, is the insistence that advancing those values is part of “bending the arc of history.”  In other words, this isn’t a statement that Google’s products improve people’s independent thought and that Google’s values will ultimately prevail for that reason.  Rather, it’s a statement that Google will work to nudge people’s thinking in a particular direction.

Along those lines, the concession that I would have liked to hear somewhere in my scanning of the discussion, but did not, is a reminder that people who disagree with the beliefs of Google’s apparent monoculture are still the company’s customers, with their own rights and independence and deserving of the company’s honest and enthusiastic service.

In short, people who don’t agree with Google’s social and political views should take the hint.  Reduce your dependence on the company’s products, and look for alternatives more generally.

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Quick Thoughts the Day After the Election

Some progressives in and out of the mainstream media are making September 12 out to be a great day for progressives in Rhode Island, but that overstates things.  Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR), for example, put Representative Moira Walsh’s photo at the top of Scott MacKay’s progressive rah-rag, but that’s making an awful lot out of a 639 vote victory by an incumbent who (I believe) has no other job than representative in a progressive district against a previously unknown challenger whom the news media targeted as a Trump-supporting previous Republican.  Michael Earnheart nonetheless collected 521 votes.

I wouldn’t call that result a mandate for progressive activism. A sign of weakness for Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who opposed Walsh, but not a sign of strength for his opposition.

That said, establishment Democrats should be concerned that progressive activist Sam Bell was able to unseat state Senator Paul Jabour in Providence, although they were separated by just 172 votes, and a third candidate took 595.  From a long-term perspective, progressives’ losses could be seen as encouraging for them.  Forty-three percent of people voting in the Democrat primary chose candidates to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political left, and progressive poster-boy Aaron Regunberg only narrowly lost to the more-moderate Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, 49% to 51%.

Of course, one confounding factor could have been cross-over votes, with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity encouraging conservatives to disaffiliate so they could participate in either primary and vote strategically.  Election participation can fluctuate from year to year so as to make such comparisons difficult, but there is some reason to believe cross-over votes were not insignificant.

Congressman David Cicilline won the Democrat primary handily, but would a purely intra-party “anybody but Cicilline” impulse have produced 13,327 votes for Christopher Young?  I have my doubts.  Even if only 2,400 hundred of these Young voters were non-Democrats who crossed over, that would account for McKee’s victory in the lieutenant governor’s race.

The same dynamic might have played a role on the Republican ticket.  Patricia Morgan outperformed expectations, with 40% of the vote, against Allan Fung’s 56%, but a crossover vote of 5,000 would account for all of that.  I wouldn’t say that crossovers were that significant, but they probably were a factor, inasmuch as Morgan supporters would have been less likely to abandon the Republican ballot.

Whatever the case, we now move on to the general election, where the biggest question will be whether independent former-Republican Joe Trillo can make this the third governor’s race in a row in which a split vote on the political right allows an unpopular Democrat to slip into the office and conduct the business of the state poorly for four more years.

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The Inherent Politicization of Government Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new chairman, Stephen Skoly makes an important point in a recent op-ed (emphasis added):

At the root of the Janus case is the inherently political nature of government unions, which negotiate for taxpayer funded benefits. Prior to Janus, these activities were subsidized with dollars forcibly taken in dues or fees from public employee paychecks. Now that workers have been restored their rights to choose whether or not to pay, unions must become more transparent and diverse in their election and legislative advocacy, if they are to keep their members. Employees should know how their dues money is spent; this, too, will be part of our campaign.

For a sense of how true this inherent politicization is, look no farther than Dan Yorke’s interview with the director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, Bob Walsh.  Walsh makes light of the political allegation by breaking down the unions’ individual activities into their component parts, but that’s a distraction.  Instead, look toward the end of the interview, when Yorke turns the conversation to politics.

Note, in particular, that Walsh is explicitly speaking in his role as a union leader and that his points are inextricable from the union’s activities.  Explaining the two sides of the scale when it comes to his union’s decision not to endorse a gubernatorial candidate for the upcoming primary, Walsh says that Governor Gina Raimondo was “helpful in replacing Commissioner Gist.”

This is a reference to former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who tried to bring some measure of reform to Rhode Island’s system, in which it is badly needed.  The union did not like her efforts to make its members accountable, so it helped to bring somebody into office who would appoint a commissioner more to its liking.  One can see the same thing in unions’ efforts to determine with whom they’ll be negotiating in local school committee races.

Thus, government unions are on every side of every negotiating table, leveraging taxpayer funds that until Janus employees had no choice but to give them to affect who will be elected.  That would be inherently political even if the unions weren’t leading advocates for a far-left ideology on issues having nothing to do with representing employees.

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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

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The Millennial Wave That Might Not Be

For years, we’ve heard how much attention must be paid to the Millennial generation, because its members would soon change the face of society and politics.  They may very well do that, as a large generation, but a tidbit from Ian Donnis’s latest Friday column reminds us that Millennials are human, too:

Which generation has the greatest increase in voter registration in Rhode Island from 2014 to 2018? Would you believe the Silent Generation (people born between 1928-45), which had a 39 percent bump, from 996 to 1,381 over the last four years, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office. Boomer (born 1945-64) registrations jumped 30 percent, from 4,163 to 5,423, while Xers (1965-1980) climbed 20 percent, from 5,055 to 6,060. Generation Z (1997-) is up 9 percent, 3,290 to 3,574, while Millennial (1981-1996) registrations dropped 11 percent, from 12,275 to 10,892.

So why would the number of voter registrations among Millennials drop as we head toward elections that the mainstream media has been hyping as their chance to save humanity?  An answer would take more digging than I’ve time for at the moment, but I think we can return to my old thesis about the “productive class.”

Over the last four years, the youngest Millennials have moved on from college, or whatever they were doing as they transitioned into their 20s, and the oldest Millennials moved into their late 30s and (gasp!) middle age.  As I’ve been saying since even the oldest Millennials were still in their 20s, the people who tend to leave Rhode Island are those in the “meaty, motivated segment on the cusp of the middle class” — people who want to cash in their talents and labor to build their lives.  That transaction remains much more difficult in Rhode Island than elsewhere.

The harder question may be who remains behind.  Some Millennials in their still-idealistic (read: naive) youth, probably.  However, the non-Millennial cohort could surprise us.  Will they be defined by newly wizened GenXers who have too much experience to fall for socialist promises or seniors too far removed from their careers and too reliant on other people to resist the lure of big government?

We’ll see.  In the meantime, perhaps we should take the lesson that demographics are not destiny and at least some people can change their minds… or move.

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The Red Threat Funding the Left

It’s a cliché (and no less likely to be true for being such) to say that progressives will always tell you what they are doing by accusing the other side of it.  Thus, we get coordinated accusations about “Koch brothers funding” in the most local of races all the way up to the most nationally concerned disputes while George Soros funds the broad and hostile Left and Tom Steyer undemocratically changes energy policies in states in which he does not live.

Thus, we get unsubstantiated assertions of Russian investment in the American Right even as this is going on:

China’s Communist Party is intensifying covert influence operations in the United States that include funding Washington think tanks and coercing Chinese Americans, according to a congressional commission report. …

In addition to Johns Hopkins, other think tanks linked to China and influential in American policy circles include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

So, at best, we’ve got a complex world in which both sides do similar things, each with a mix of motivations and effects.  My experience, though, is that progressives’ activities carry what most people would perceive to be a suspicious tinge.  That makes sense objectively:  The Left, after all, is defined by its comfort with centralized authority and positions itself in opposition to established norms.

However much these Left-Right scales may balance, though, we shouldn’t allow the assumption that anything done for progressive causes is excusable.

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Center To Spread the Word About Public Employees’ Restored Rights under Janus

I have big news. We’ve launched a major new campaign designed to inform public servants of their recently restored First Amendment rights, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus v AFSCME case. You can see our new website at MyPayMySayRI.com. As a consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, we believe that public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues.

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Hints of Mail Ballots as the Gateway to Buying Elections

In our weekly segments on his WNRI show, John DePetro and I have long been talking about indications that the new method of winning elections among Rhode Island’s dominant politicians appears to involve direct harvesting of votes through mail ballots.

The first red flag was Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s victory-by-mail-ballot in Cranston.  The next was Democrat Dawn Euer’s win of Rhode Island Senate District 13, with the help of a paid campaigner who became a notary public in order to generate mail-ballot votes.  With no big special elections since then, the indications have been limited to things like Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s attempt at funneling campaign money into Providence and legislation related to notary publics.  And, of course, there has been the governor’s furious campaign to raise more money than many people could think to spend on an election in Rhode Island.

Now add this to the list, from WPRI’s Dan McGowan:

More than 2,000 Providence voters turned in mail ballot applications ahead of the Sept. 12 primary, a steep increase from the number of mail ballots requested four years ago.

Kathy Placencia, the administrator for the Providence Board of Canvassers, confirmed Friday there were 2,183 requests for mail ballots in Providence by the Aug. 22 deadline, a 50% increase from the 2014 primary that featured competitive races for governor and mayor.

That’s a citywide increase of 50%, but at the ward level, the increases are up to four times the prior number of mail ballots.

Certainly, it could be that widening availability and awareness of mail ballots are leading people to change their habits.  People are increasingly shopping online, after all, including for groceries, and there’s no reason to think waiting in line to vote is an activity that would remain near and dear to Rhode Islanders’ hears if they had a choice.

Still, as we enter election season, this is going to be one of the key areas to watch, particularly as the votes are counted.

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Michael Riley: Rhode Island May Have Dodged a Bullet, No Thanks to Our Treasurer

In assessing the effort to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, it is important to review the role of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The state treasurer was asked to analyze the costs and opine on affordability, as would be expected with a large borrowing like this. Mr. Magaziner opined in October 2017 and in June 2018 as numbers changed along with the terms of the deal and then opined again recently, finally giving a nod to the deal.

But what everyone needs to know is that $350 million dollars in debt for Pawtucket’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for former employees was not used in his analysis. This is more than twice the city’s pension debt! In fact, it was purposely left out by Magaziner. Including OPEB debt would obviously have made the City of Pawtucket’s borrowing look dangerous and ill-conceived. Ignoring OPEB allowed for an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars by the treasurer.

Think about it.  Seth Magaziner violated his own risk recommendations by hiding a liability in his analysis; this is the type of stuff they did with 38 Studios. Mr. Magaziner owes it to taxpayers to lay all the cards on the table and not to fall in line with political winds. Had he actually laid the cards on the table, looked at all the debt, and been transparent and honest, the PawSox deal would appropriately have never seen the light of day.

As can be seen in the comprehensive Debt Affordability Study, Pawtucket already exceeds Magaziner’s limits for debt, along with Woonsocket and Providence, before even considering borrowing for the new stadium or the $350 million in OPEB liability, which the board is to reconsider as a component next year. This $350 million is so significant and overwhelming, it would be irresponsible for any treasurer to think Pawtucket absorbing new debt was a good idea.

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