17 Best MINDSETTERS™ and Columns of 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

 

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It was a year of lively debate both nationally and in Rhode Island. The following are 17 of the best columns and MINDSETTER™ pieces of 2017.

 

Related Slideshow: 17 Best MINDSETTERS™ and Columns of 2017

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#BONUS

Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: Why I Oppose Raimondo’s Free College Scheme

Friday, March 17, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Andrew Stewart

Far be it for me to rain on everyone’s parade but I think the notion of Gina Raimondo, the best friend education privatizers ever had on Smith Hill, offering free tuition is simply not worth it. Anyone who does not recognize this as first and foremost a desperate re-election ploy and therefore a bid to further damage public education in Rhode Island is totally missing the point. The legend has it that the gates of Hell were marked with a sign that said“Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” and I do not see pearly gates on the horizon with this.

So let’s start with a basic fact, Rhode Island’s public education system, flawed as it may be, is one of the most robust and admirable in America hands-down. Which in corporate Democrat speak is translated to the word“jackpot”. Lest anyone forget, Raimondo’s husband, Andrew Moffit, is a charter school industrial player. His career began with a stint in the union-busting Teach for America, which engages in the sort of paternalistic missionary work of sending under-qualified and under-trained college graduates into urban public schools because, well, poor black and brown kids apparently don’t deserve qualified teachers who are looking for a lifetime career as opposed to a self-serving careerist looking for a resume stepping stone. Raimondo and Moffit have always seen public resources, such as the pension fund, as untapped wellsprings of capital for their paymasters in the 1%. Let’s not forget, the charter school industry is financed by the hedge fund sector Raimondo invested the pension in while Treasurer. These same hedge fund leaders like Paul Tudor Jones (a Raimondo backer, by the way) were responsible for causing the 2008 economic apocalypse.  That in turn was built off a systemic level of predatory real estate loans in sub-prime mortgages that were viciously and deceptively marketed to black and brown folks nationwide. Public education for the 1% is a massive hindrance to their ultimate goal because it incidentally has manning it a white-collar union of college-educated professionals who are savvy enough to know a scam when they see it.

But besides those basic observations, what exact good has Raimondo done for our colleges while in office? She refused to say any kind words defending the second female president of Rhode Island College, Nancy Carrioulo, when she was ousted in a duplicitous and unsavory coup last year that stank of Smith Hill cronyism from the get-go (shows how far Gina’s faux-feminism will go). And then just coincidentally after that fiasco Richard Culatta, straight out of the pro-charter school Department of Education, was made a cabinet officer that is not held to traditional checks and balances because, surprise, he is working at the Rhode Island College Foundation. What exactly Culatta is doing remains opaque but, given how the Governor has of late gotten all gaga for computers, it seems logical to deduce he might be working to implement what is known as computer-based personalized learning. Don’t let that name fool you, however, it is much more creepy. Already in Florida we have students enter a classroom and sit in front of a screen for the entire school day as they are supervised by a proctor as opposed to a teacher. There are so many things that are wrong with this sort of anti-social arrangement. The school day is meant to be about a holistic development of the entire student, not just tapping on a keyboard, and the socialization that a child needs to properly develop psychologically and emotionally is fundamentally ripped away when they are in front of a screen all day. Oh, and that does not even begin the discussion about real physical impediments created by being on a computer all day, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, vision impairment, and other neurological factors science is still revealing to us regarding longtime exposure of youths to flickering screens. Does that sound like a good set of previous policies for education in Rhode Island?

Or what about the law-breaking Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, who in December violated state law and approved the expansion of Achievement First charter school in Providence, a move that City Councilor Sam Zurier said was a surefire way to “break” public education in the city? Raimondo has a confirmed “open door policy” with Wagner and it is blatantly obvious to anyone and everyone with their wits about them that she was supportive of such a move. Charter schools engage in advertising and recruitment practices that prey on the fears of the school-to-prison pipeline in black and brown communities, utilize brutal disciplinary methods, and take funding away from school districts to the detriment of special education and English as a secondary language students. Their teachers are unable to gain tenure and make far less than their public sector counterparts. They have a substantial level of corruption and malfeasance that no less than comedian John Oliver highlighted their massive flaws in a segment of his show Last Week Tonight. All this should dictate to voters that Raimondo needs to get away from public education immediately and go back to being a failed venture capitalist.

The real beneficial move for a public official to take at this point regarding public education, besides shuttering charter schools, would be to give debt relief to graduates. Rhode Island’s current economic doldrums are defined by the fact there is not enough demand in the local economy. Thousands of college graduates are currently living at home with their parents because they are living under crushing debt that eats up a sizable amount of their paycheck. If it were possible to offer debt relief, perhaps in exchange for a term of public service in unionized jobs, that would increase the amount of demand in the economy, meaning there would be growth. However, I highly doubt that the anti-public sector Raimondo would be able and willing to make a deceptive political grandstand out of such a notion and revive a tenure on Smith Hill that has been nothing but pathetic. Could maybe Seth Magaziner, our current Treasurer, use such a move?

 

Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.

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#17

Hey RI, We Want the PawSox in Worcester: Guest MINDSETTER™ Quist

Monday, April 10, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Steve Quist

A recent Facebook posting by the indomitable Kate Nagle of GoLocal recently perked me up with the news that a Wall Street investor is looking to join forces with the Pawtucket Red Sox ownership group.

Why would that interest some guy up here in Worcester one might ask?

Because I love my city and would do what it takes to convince the Pawtucket Red Sox to relocate here and make their - and my city's - dreams come true.

My dream, because I want to roll out my front door and hike the mile it would take to see AAA baseball, especially in a brand spanking new stadium located in the heart of our downtown.

The Pawtucket Red Sox' dream, because they would be immediately embraced by the City of Worcester with a ready made fan base and the cooperation needed to make a new stadium viable and successful.

Worcester's Baseball Tradition

Worcester has a great baseball tradition going all the way back to the day June 12, 1880, when Lee Richmond hurled a perfect game against Cleveland. Worcester beat Cleveland 1-0 and major league baseball's first perfect pitched game was in the history books.

This was the same year Worcester fielded a team for the National League and the same year Mr. Richmond became the game's first 30 game winner as a left-hander.

Worcester is experiencing an economic boom the likes of which I have never seen in my short 50 or so years living in this great city.

A boom that's creating a new city and with it bringing in new residents and private investment with boatloads of people looking to spend their extra discretionary cash on great entertainment. 

I suggest the PawSox fit that bill and would enjoy immeasurable success, sell-out crowds and a business community ready and raring to go to support them.

Pawtucket meanwhile is squabbling and debating IF they want the Paw-Sox and MAYBE they might be willing to invest in them and a new stadium.

Guess what Pawtucket? 

You can keep on squabbling and you can keep on debating but Worcester has already sent over to the PawSox management over 10,000 postcards from city residents and beyond asking them to consider Worcester as their new home.

We want the PawSox and it's not even a debate up here.

Keeping Fighting, RI

That's right - while you people are still fighting about what to do to keep the PawSox, Worcester is ready, willing, and able to take them in the time it takes a screaming fastball to reach home plate from 90' away.

We are playing for keeps on this one.

We currently host and are damn proud of our Worcester Bravehearts, who play in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

The games are currently played at the legendary Fitton Field where some guy named Ted Williams jacked his first home-run in New England in an exhibition game here.

Worcester has shown we can chew gum and walk at the same time and we can certainly support two ball clubs that provide great entertainment and the game's up-and-coming stars.

Pawtucket has only one chance to get this right. If you fail you can say goodbye to the PawSox. 

Rest assured that when you travel up to Worcester to see the WooSox play, we hope to provide as welcoming an environment and as friendly an atmosphere as you people have provided all these many years.

I'm rooting for the WooSox and maybe you should too.

Steve Quist is a Democratic activist in Worcester, MA.

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#16

Guest MINDSETTER™ Ford: No More Reefer Madness - Legalize Marijuana

Monday, February 13, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Pat Ford

It’s hard to believe we’re still debating whether adults should be allowed to use cannabis. No one questions our freedom to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with dinner. But the devil’s lettuce? Our government still says, “no way.” The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

As the head of the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island, cannabis legalization is an easy issue for me. Of course, government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who choose to consume cannabis. It’s impossible for me to understand how anyone who believes in personal liberty could support that.  

I admit the catchphrase “tax and regulate” doesn’t exactly fire me up. However, I recognize that it’s a useful way to highlight the absurdity of the prohibitionist system. While every other business owner in the state is forced to pay taxes and conform to (often burdensome) regulations, illegal dealers sell cannabis with no rules, no oversight, and no taxes. I concede that some regulations are needed — The cannabis sold on the street is often doctored, and unsafe.  And the tax can be thought of as a “user fee.” If you don’t use cannabis, you don’t pay the tax. It’s certainly better than the current situation in which we all pay for the enforcement of an unenforceable law. 

Cultural conservatives fret that legalizing cannabis “sends the wrong message” as if we should be taking cues on morality from the government. Some, like the enlightened editorial board at The Providence Journal, go even further and claim that cannabis use leads to the “general rot of society.” Sounds awfully close to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ statement that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” 

But guess what? Lots of people already use cannabis. Even so-called “good people” like doctors, police officers, and — gasp — politicians. The reality is that all kinds of people use cannabis for all sorts of reasons. Can we finally grow up and get past the antiquated “reefer madness” stereotypes, please?  

You see, the little secret that prohibitionists never want to admit is that our current policy isn’t stopping anyone from using cannabis if they want to, including our children.  Opponents act as though legalizing cannabis for adults would open up Pandora’s Box — but the box is already open. And no one, repeat, no one, is suggesting that we legalize a child’s use of any controlled substance. 

According to government statistics, about 1 in 5 adults in Rhode Island used cannabis last year. When visiting the US in the early 20th century, Einstein commented on alcohol Prohibition: “"The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”

This critique applies equally well to cannabis prohibition. It’s laughable that the government is attempting putting 20 percent of the adult population on the wrong side of the law because they consume cannabis. 

And lastly, it’s worth emphasizing how senseless it would be for Rhode Island to delay passing legalization while Massachusetts goes about setting up their legal cannabis market. It’s like handing them jobs and tax revenue on a silver platter. The Rhode Island and Massachusetts economies are bound up together, and plenty of people already cross the border to buy all sorts of things. Failing to set up a legal cannabis market here would effectively result in a tremendous transfer of wealth from the Ocean State to the Bay State.  

Make no mistake — cannabis legalization is not “inevitable.” Our lawmakers are not going to see the light on their own. They need to know that their constituents think it’s silly to punish people who use cannabis while alcohol is completely legal. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved and help ensure Rhode Island leaves the days of “reefer madness” behind.

#ItsTime

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#15

Horowitz: Attacks on Mueller Don’t Pass the Laugh Test

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rob Horowitz, GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™

In the wake of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea and the news that he has become a cooperating witness, right-wing media and certain House Republicans have stepped up their baseless and fact-challenged attacks on Special Counsel Bob Mueller and the FBI in a desperate attempt to discredit the investigation as it gains potency and to create political space for President Trump to fire Mueller.

Leading the charge is Sean Hannity with his fellow Fox evening prime time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram and weekend host Jeanine Pirro following closely behind.  Instead of praising or at least noting that Mueller removed Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent, who had sent text messages attacking President Trump from the investigation the minute he found out about them, Hannity, whose show should be re-named ‘The Trump Hour of Power”, used this revelation to launch a vicious and completely unfounded attack on Mueller. “Let’s start off with the head of the snake. Mueller’scredibility is in the gutter tonight with these new discoveries, his conflicts of interests, his clear bias, the corruption are on full display. Mueller is frankly a disgrace to the American justice system and has put the country now on the brink of becoming a banana republic.”

As Hannity knows, Bob Mueller has a well-earned reputation for integrity and honorable service to this nation.  Serving in the Marines during Vietnam, Mueller won the Bronze Star and received a Purple Heart.  Appointed by President George W. Bush as FBI Director, Mueller was instrumental to protecting the Homeland after 9/11, earning nearly unanimous bi-partisan plaudits for his 12-year tenure.  

Perhaps, more to the point, as Hannity and the other over-heated critics well-know, Mueller is a registered Republican--which makes the charges that the investigation is rife with partisan bias laughable.  You can just imagine, if they were on the air during Watergate, what Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, and the others would be saying about Special Counsel Archibald Cox, who actually was a Kennedy-supporting, liberal Democrat.

Additionally, Mueller was not appointed by an evil cabal of liberals; he was the choice of the Trump Administration’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, in which the Republican members vied to see who can most embarrass themselves in either unfairly attacking Mueller or calling on the investigation to be disbanded, Rosenstein ably defended the special counsel:  Rosenstein told the Committee, “We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions. I believe that Director Mueller understands that, and he is running his office appropriately.”

People can and do put their professional obligations ahead of their partisan views.  That is the point being willfully ignored by the critics, who since they can’t point to any examples of actual misconduct in how the investigation is being conducted, prefer to launch a smear campaign. Additionally, even taken on its own terms, their argument falls apart because the investigation is being overseen by a registered Republican and he is being overseen by a Trump appointee.

These baseless attacks are, of course, welcomed and encouraged by President Trump. This past weekend he viciously went after FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Trump tweeted, “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation. "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”  Trump falsely stated that McCabe’s wife received the contributions while McCabe was working on the investigation, when he did not begin to be involved in it until after.  More broadly, just because his wife is running for office and receiving contributions that any Democratic candidate running in Virginia would have received from the governor and the state party in no way prevents McCabe from exercising his professional responsibilities with integrity.

Trump went after McCabe so viciously because in the Deputy Director’s testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee he confirmed that former FBI Director James Comey had told him in real time about Trump’s request for loyalty.

No one including Bob Mueller is above criticism.  But there is a difference between far-fetched smears and legitimate arguments.  Especially on Fox, now that Rupert Murdoch needs Trump to approve his pending merger with Disney, the attacks on Mueller are only likely to grow more overheated. But I am confident, despite the best efforts of President Trump and his right-wing media and Congressional allies, that most of the American people can and will be able to recognize the difference.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

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#14

Guest MINDSETTER™ Fachon: A Law for Law-Makers

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Emil "Dean" Fachon

No committee-chairman or committee should have the power to kill a bill that received overwhelming support from the other side of the General Assembly. Here's an example of why:

Subsequent to Eugene "Neil" Fachon's death after a prolonged struggle with a rare and "incurable" form of brain cancer, we worked with House Representatives McNamara and Giarrusso to help draft a "Right to Try and Right to Continue" bill for Rhode Island – HR H5676. Had such a bill been in place when Neil needed to be hospitalized, he would have been able to continue taking the experimental treatment which held his tumor at bay for several months (well beyond the prognosis he received from DANA Farber and Mass General). As it was, Rhode Island Hospital refused to allow Neil's continued experimental treatment while hospitalized there. "Against policy." It was then Neil's tumor resumed growing aggressively.

We cannot know if Neil would have lived any longer had he been allowed to continue his treatment, but the hospital's decision will leave us with that nagging question for the rest of our lives. Under the circumstances, is it any wonder we hoped to see Right to Try legislation passed in Rhode Island? Such a bill would enable anyone caught in Neil's predicament to continue his or her experimental treatment – barring unmanageable complications – while hospitalized. Though small consolation for the loss of a son, this would have made a legacy Neil would have been proud of.

The House side of the General Assembly passed HR5676 on April 13, 2016. They voted for it unanimously! We were delighted of course, but we knew the bill would also require the Senate's approval, which meant it would first have to pass through the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. We sent several communications to that committee, and on June 15, 2016 my wife and I testified on behalf of Right to Try. One person stood against it. She effectively said, "We should trust the FDA." (This would be the same FDA we had to fight in Federal Court just win back Neil's right to continue the clinical trial they wanted to halt retroactively.) The committee chairman seemed predisposed to the FDAbacker's testimony, and as committees tend to defer to their chairman, HR5676 was held for further discussion. Killed.

What happened to HR H5676 – being extinguished by the opinion of one person or committee – should never happen to any bill which enjoyed such overwhelming support from the opposite side of the General Assembly. "Right to Try" should have received full debate in the Senate. Given that we live in a State where a "Woman's Right to Choose" is held paramount, what are the odds the Senate would have found a terminally-ill patient's right to choose any less imperative? On the strength of that argument and the bill's unanimous approval by the House, Right to Try would probably be law today – and doubly so given that 37 other states have already passed similar legislation, providing ample precedent!

Some might say the Senate committee's decision to "hold" the bill was just exercising their prerogative as the "deliberative" body, but common sense suggests it more closely resembled an almost callous disregard for the will of the House. This leads me to propose new legislation, or an amendment to Rhode Island's Constitution if needs be:

Any bill receiving 75% or more support from either side of the General Assembly must automatically be sent to the opposite side for debate and a vote by the full body within 30 days or before the close of the session. The associated committee may make recommendations, but it may not hold the bill.

Some might argue this measure would tamper with "separation of powers." No. It would not limit either branch's ultimate authority to determine the fate of any proposed legislation. What it would do is preclude any one person or committee from unilaterally thwarting the overwhelming sentiment of the General Assembly's opposite branch. Please ask your Representatives and Senators to support this proposal.

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#13

Rhode Island Can Build on Labor Day Victories: Guest MINDSETTER™ Isman

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Georgia Hollister Isman, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTER™

Labor Day isn’t just a great beach day. It’s a historic day, honoring the struggle to create better, fairer workplaces for all Americans. It’s an important holiday to reflect on the rights and needs of working women and men and how we’ve raised their voices together to build better lives for ourselves and our neighbors.

This year, Labor Day happens to fall near the Rhode Island General Assembly’s return to Providence to finish the work left undone at the end of the regular session. When legislators reconvene, it’s time for them to move the needle on workers’ rights and pass a strong earned sick days bill.

Since January, the Rhode Island Working Families Party, along with dozens of other groups, hundreds of activists, and thousands of individuals have been working to pass an earned sick days bill to protect the health and jobs of the 170,000 state residents who get no sick days at work. In the last few days of the regular session in June, both the House and the Senate passed bills that would give at least 100,000 Rhode Islanders access to this vital protection. With more than 74 percent of both chambers supporting it, lawmakers clearly recognized this as a priority for their constituents.

Because two different versions of this bill passed, it was one of the measures left in limbo by the budget stand-off that lawmakers are expected to end on September 19. They are expected to consider the earned sick days bill, developing a compromise version. Advocates are working to ensure that legislators settle on the strongest version of the bill—one that offers the most workers earned sick days. Legislators must also ensure that even those who work for businesses too small to be required to provide earned days off can still earn job-protected leave to take time to care for themselves or their families without risking reprisals from their bosses.

The House version of this bill would provide earned sick days to 100,000 Rhode Island workers –  and the Senate version covers even more employees. Who does the bill benefit? It’s for parents who currently have to choose between taking care of a sick child and a day’s pay they need to make rent. These are women escaping domestic violence who fear that on top of everything else, they will lose their jobs if they miss a day of work in their struggle to escape. And they’re frontline food service, childcare, and healthcare workers who risk infecting those they serve or jeopardize their ability to support their family. It’s time to end these terrible choices.

Earned sick days is a smart, common sense worker protection that’s good for families and the public health. It is good for businesses too, as it reduces contagion and employee turnover. But it didn’t come to be a priority in the legislature just on its merits. Like all advances for working people, it required organizing. Our coalition mobilized individuals to advocate and tell their powerful stories. Legislators heard directly from school bus drivers, doctors, teachers, servers, small business owners, domestic violence survivors, and parents. Workers who don’t have sick days spoke up—and so did many who have this benefit and know how crucial it is to maintaining their economic security. And Representatives and Senators got more than 7,000 postcards from constituents.

I wish the voices of working men and women were a top priority at the State House every day—and that’s one of the goals of Working Families Party and members of our coalition. When working people and advocates band together, our collective voices have the power to advance important policies like this one. That’s what has always been needed to advance worker’s rights, and it is these struggles – and victories – that Labor Day celebrates. Let’s pass a strong earned sick days bill and make history right now for Rhode Island workers.

 

Georgia Hollister Isman is the state director of Rhode Island Working Families Party.

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#12

Guest MINDSETTER™ Sasse: Are Governors Economic Miracle Workers?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gary Sasse, GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™

Rhode Island’s economic performance has garnered national attention. The State has attracted jobs from a few companies like GE Digital and Johnson & Johnson. The Governor’s communication chief boasts about the “economic comeback Governor Raimondo is leading.”

A state’s economic performance can have a profound impact on the political fortunes of governors. Former Governor Michael Dukakis (D-MA) based his quest for the presidency on the “Massachusetts Miracle”, which in his view, transformed the Bay State into a hi-tech innovation-based economy.

How much credit can be assigned to a governor when the economy in their state grows? Harvard economist Edward Glaesar believes that, “most of the things that affect a state’s economy are way beyond a governor’s control.” A March 2017 article in Governing found that, “Published research doesn’t offer any consensus on the degree to which governors generate growth across a state’s economy, but it’s certainly less than they give themselves credit for, at least in the short term.” It is the case that governors get too much political credit when their state’s economy is growing and too much blame when it is not.

One proxy to assess a governor’s performance is to compare employment trends with other states and the nation. As measured by job growth and labor force dynamism, data suggest Rhode Island is not an outlier, but also not the leader of the pack.

Between January 2015,  when Governor Raimondo took office, and  March 2017, Ocean State employment increased by 2.36 percent compared to 5.92 percent in Massachusetts, 3.74 nationally and 1.92 percent in the other New England states. 

During this same period, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate declined at a faster pace (32.8 percent) than it did for the balance of New England (26.8 percent). However, Rhode Island was the only state in the region not to experience growth in its labor force.  A stagnant labor force is a significant challenge because Rhode Island’s employment-to population of prime-age workers is the lowest in New England.

In a competitive interstate environment, it would be malpractice if governors did not fight to improve their state’s business climate. There is no such thing as laissez-faire when states compete for jobs, and a governor’s “bully pulpit” can be the most powerful economic development tool a state possesses.  However, results of a governor’s efforts to grow the economy probably will not be known until long after he or she leaves office. The North Carolina Research Triangle Park was opened in 1959, and it took two decades to create 10,000 jobs. 

Rhode Island’s economic development strategy appears to be predicated on growth incentives, innovation incentives, tax deals and education and training. Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter teaches us that being competitive requires that states help businesses to make productive use of their human, capital and natural resources. Some of Rhode Island’s economic development programs are consistent with this objective.

The Real Jobs Rhode Island program attempts to link employee education and training with the real-time manpower needs of employers. Investments in computer literacy and the P-TECH program have the potential of paying dividends for both workers and employers if funded at scale.

Innovation in products, process and cluster development is essential for sustainable job and business growth. The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation offers innovation vouchers, cluster development grants as well as innovation network matching grants.

However, only $2.2 million has been appropriated for these innovation incentives. In addition, voters have approved a $20 million bond issue for an innovation campus affiliated with URI. 

When compared to real estate deals, the level of investment in innovation has been modest. The State has invested $58 million in Rebuild Redeemable Tax Credits, almost $20 million in I-195 office buildings and over $7 million in tax increment finance and tax stabilization agreements. 

In ten years will Rhode Island see a return on the investments being made to retool its economy? Will there be a well-educated labor force enjoying a high standard of living? Nobody can answer these questions with certainty. However, the chances of success are enhanced if innovation in product and process and structural reforms to improve the business climate are not over-shadowed by high-cost real estate deals and corporate welfare. 

Gary Sasse is Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University. He is the former Executive Director Rhode Island Public Expenditure and Director of the Departments of Administration and Revenue.

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#11

Whitcomb: Superman Teardown? CT’s Tough Gun Laws Seem to Work; Puppy Parties

Monday, December 18, 2017

Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

"At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth; 
But like of each thing that in season grows."


--   William Shakespeare

 

News that Providence developer (and former mayor) Joseph Paolino and Gilbane Development are pitching a plan to demolish the 26-story Industrial Trust Building (aka “Superman Building’’) and replace it with a modern, glassy 35-story tower as a new headquarters for Hasbro draws yelps from preservationists who love the empty Art Deco tower, which went up in the late ‘20s.

But the fact is that the old building presents an almost impossible retrofitting challenge. The stepped-back structure makes modern office and utility rearrangement difficult, leaving reuse almost prohibitively expensive, at least in a mid-sized city like Providence, which just doesn’t have that much money around and is too small to lure the cash to be spent on such an awkward if formidable-looking structure.  Indeed, estimates are that to make the tower commercially viable again would require reconstruction work costing $60 million to $100 million. And the building has been vacant for five years! No one’s stepping forward to save it.  Show us the money!

In a city with piles of capital and rich commercial-office-space customers, a city such as Boston, it can make sense to attempt the difficult task of retrofitting an old iconic skyscraper, as was done with the United Shoe Machinery Building downtown (built in 1929-30),  with its gold top. That building’s structure is rather similar to the Industrial Trust Building but the building materials are better.

I confess to never having had much affection for the Superman Building’s exterior. Its limestone facing is crumbly and dirty and the top of the structure looks like an incinerator. The beautiful part is inside, in the palatial former public banking area on the first floor. Wouldn’t it be nice to save that and put the modern, glassy skyscraper over it?

And office dwellers these days like a lot of natural light, which means big windows.

xxx

Republican congressional leaders are talking about taking on “entitlements reform’’ next year, which sounds like cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There’s no doubt that demography will ultimately force major changes in these programs, lest they consume the entire federal budget. But if you thought the tax battle was ferocious….

xxx

After a lunatic young gunman murdered 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Nutmeg State legislators in  2013 broadened the definition of “assault rifle’’ and the sale of gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. State law also requires a permit to buy any gun or ammunition. And Connecticut has a registry of weapon offenders and a universal background check system.

Ron Piniciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, told WNPR that the state had 53 homicides with guns in 2016, way down from the 92 before the new law took effect.  But then, southern New England has long had among the lowest gun-death rates in America.

Interestingly, reports WNPR, gun sales are still rising in the state. But Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal-justice policy and planning, says the rigorous permitting process keeps down the violence.

There have been variants of the Connecticut legislation promoted in Congress but as long as the National Rifle Association, which acts as chief lobbyist for the gun-manufacturing industry, holds sway there, don’t expect anything. Polls suggest that most Americans want tougher gun laws, but that counts for little on Capitol Hill!

Gun-control advocates lack the lobbying and campaign-contribution money of the weapons industry and, whatever the opinion polls show, gun lovers vote more intensely than do gun-control folks. And the gun lobby and its servants in Congress and the White House are far more politically ruthless than are gun-control people. For that matter, on a range of issues from health care to taxes to the environment, the majority of the public seems to favor slightly left-of-center positions, if national opinion polls mean much. But they vote at considerably lower percentages than do people on the right. They get the government they deserve.

To read a WNPR story on this, please hit  this link:

xxx

Governmental micro-management/social engineering can get pretty silly and intrusive. Consider the Colorado case heard the other week by the U.S. Supreme Court. In this case, Jack Phillips, the owner of a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple on the grounds that to do so would violate his Christian beliefs,  the expression of which is protected under the First Amendment. The state took him to court for allegedly violating the gay couple’s legal rights.

I hope that the Supremes rule in Mr. Phillips’s favor. It seems to me that someone running a tiny business should have the right to refuse to sell something to some whose behavior he opposes. Further, for government officials to intervene in such micro-relationships dilutes their authority and effectiveness. And there are plenty of bakers who would be happy to sell a wedding cake to anyone.  Money usually trumps (so to speak) religion in America. (For that matter, religion can be very lucrative.) The Colorado officials should pick their battles more carefully.

This isn’t like an African-American being denied service because of his race.

We might also remember just how recent gay marriages are. Thirty years ago, the idea that gay marriage would be the law of the land would have seemed preposterous to most Americans. Many people are still getting used to the idea, an idea that’s a good thing.

xxx

Connecticut state troopers are ingenious in laying in wait for speeding drivers on Route 95. They park between trees before lunging toward speeders.

xxx

That there’s increasing competition to establish wind-power facilities south of New England shows the increasing cost-efficiency of wind turbines and the growing awareness of the need to reduce fossil-fuel consumption.

So there now are three companies vying to build wind farms off the southern Massachusetts coast – Bay State Wind, Vineyard Wind and Deepwater Wind (which has already put up a small wind farm east of Block Island, after much opposition from some wealthy summer people).

The whole area is superb for wind power. That’s because of relatively shallow water in which to put the structures and lots of wind year round, as well as proximity to a densely populated area dangerously dependent on natural gas from outside the region to generate electricity. Further, New England is a famously difficult place in which to put any power plant; NIMBYIsm reigns. (One reason our electricity costs are so high.) Thus offshore wind farms are more attractive than ones on land, albeit more expensive to erect and maintain. There’s another attraction: The supports for the turbines attract fish.

xxx

Bill Nemitz, a very good columnist for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, had a good piece the other day about the tendency to coddle college students at some campuses;  the young people are considered all-so-fragile. He cited a “campus puppy party’’ at the University of Maine at Farmington that used seven golden retriever puppies (criminally cute!) at the student center as part of administrators’ efforts to help students deal with the anxiety associated with final exams and papers.

Meanwhile at Yale, Mr. Nemitz reports, students can “actually check out dogs from both the medical and law libraries because, as one librarian explained to the student newspaper {the Yale Daily News}, ‘For a lot of students, it’s their first time away from home and they do miss their home comfort – families, pets.’’’

All this cosseting, which includes a proliferation of highly paid assistant deans to address a panoply of students’ emotional, psychiatric and sociological worries,  and some luxurious spa-like services, has, of course, helped make college ever more expensive (another cause of anxiety!).

The students will find the world after they leave college remarkably unsympathetic.  How to prepare for that? As Mr. Neimitz writes: “Rather than agreeing with hand-wringing undergrads that life is indeed a tough journey and they’d best get about navigating it, we’re validating their ‘suffering’ with adorable little bundles of bliss.’’

To read Mr. Nemitz’s column, please hit this link:

From the Yale Whiffenpoof song:

 

We're poor little lambs who have lost our way
Baa, baa, baa
We're little black sheep who have gone astray
Baa, baa, baa

Gentleman songsters off on a spree
Doomed from here to eternity
Lord have mercy on such as we
Baa, baa, baa

xxx

As I’ve written, there are far too many variables to confidently make a prediction on the economy, other than what goes up will go down and vice versa. But we can see the major forces behind the current global expansion – years of loose Federal Reserve Board monetary policy; record corporate profits; very fast growth in many nations, most dramatically in China and India, with annualized  gross domestic product growth in those two nations at well over 6.5 percent, and in some “emerging economies,’’ and a strengthening European Union after its Greek, Spanish and other crises. Of course,  the economies of developing nations will tend to grow faster than those of already developed nations: They have much further up to go!

Meanwhile, America’s GDP seems to be growing at a tad over 3 percent at the moment. That could be raised, or maintained, if more attention were paid to raising low-and-middle-income wages to increase purchasing power. But there’s little in current and planned government policies to suggest that this will happen.

In any event, beware of predictions of continued growth. Herbert Hoover said in 1928, when he ran for president and was elected in a landslide: “The outlook of the world today is for the greatest era of commercial expansion in history. The rest of the world will become better customers.” We know what happened in the fall of 1929. Stock prices and corporate profits are very high now.

Desmond Lachman, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has a good cautionary column on our current bubble. To read it, please hit this link:

xxx

Congressional Republicans and Trump have denounced the top “statutory’’ corporate-income tax rate of 35 percent and plan to cut it to a tad over 20 percent. But when you figure in all their credits and deductions companies pay on average 18.6 percent; some pay nothing – the tax code is, if nothing else, remarkably plastic in the hands of good tax lawyers.

I wonder what the average will look like after the GOP tax bill is enacted. 10 percent?

And so with a flood of retiring Baby Boomers, decayed infrastructure,  swelling national debt and intensifying security challenges abroad we’re gonna slash tax rates. That means we’ll have to boost them big time in a few years to pay for the party.

xxx

The Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm, by Thomas Campanella, a city planner, is a fascinating look at how elm trees were planted and nurtured in American towns and cities to bring together nature and human systems. They have great height,  their crowns have a wide fountain shape, and their leaves are small, which lets through a lot of sunlight to dapple the ground below. So wide are their crowns that long rows of elms on both sides of a street create a Gothic cathedral effect. No wonder that there are so many Elm Streets in New England and in the Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest states.

The author says that Charles Dickens was very enthusiastic about elms when he visited New Haven, “Elm City,’’ in 1842. Dickens wrote that the trees “bring about a sort of compromise between town and country.’’

Sadly, Dutch Elm disease killed most of these beautiful trees in the 20th Century. But forestry experts have been developing more disease-resistant elms in the past few years. We’re hoping that these elegant trees can make a big comeback and again grace many streets, parks and commons.

My strongest memory of them is from the mid-50s, when Memorial Day marchers in uniform walked at generally stately paces below their new leaves. Most of those trees were gone in the next decade.

To hear Mr. Campanella discuss his book, please hit this link:

 xxx

“Winter arrived with December, and the world continued to suffer the loss of the Internet and most forms of communication. Supply chains were disrupted. The only mass form of personal communication was the letter, and postal workers were having their worst year ever, as they were actually needed. Food was becoming scarcer and more expensive, as was fuel for vehicles and heating. Major cities experienced riots on a regular basis, spurred on by religious fervor and want. Civilization was on the brink of collapse.” 


― Mark A. Rayner, in The Fridgularity

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#10

Guest MINDSETTER™ Tom Kenney: Bankruptcy for Providence?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Tom Kenney

Much has been written and discussed lately regarding bankruptcy and Providence including an article in GoLocalProv “Bankruptcy: 17 to Watch in 2017 in RI” on December 29th. Some have stated that this is the only way to save the City. I strongly disagree. There are too many unresolved issues that will need to be taken into consideration before any bankruptcy court would allow the City to simply walk away from its obligations and hit the “reset” button.

One of the biggest obstacles to simple bankruptcy is that the City’s numerous and various assets would need to be sold off and liquidated. Assets like Roger Williams Park, the Providence Water Supply and possibly the City’s share of the Rte 195 parcel of land from the relocation of the highway to name a couple of high visibility ones. These are options that have already been explored by a couple of our mayors as an attempt to plug holes in their budgets via a short-sighted, one-time fix.

One-time fixes, short-sighted planning and overly generous tax breaks are all part of the reasons the City finds itself in this position right now. We need our leaders to step up and show long-term fiscal responsibility in leading the City through the 21st Century.

A big roadblock for the City to take control of its own financial destiny was forged in the 18th Century when RI, and America, was under the colonial rule of Great Britain. In 1765 Great Britain’s King George III bestowed upon a fledgling Brown University a charter which granted them tax-exempt status due to their mission to educate and improve the quality of life for those residing in the Colonies. While this intent may have been, and still may be, a noble idea of quid pro quo between an institution and its surrounding community this charter has become an unsustainable burden to cities such as Providence.

Other educational and medical institutions have claimed the same tax-exempt status as Brown over the years. Most of these institutions in RI reside within the borders of our Capitol City. Even if our leaders believe that this agreement works for the betterment of Providence in theory they would have to agree that in practice it has gone far beyond the intent of the charter. The original charter intended to grant institutes of higher learning the benefit of not paying taxes to the community for property involved in their core mission of educating and improving the lives of citizens of the Colonies. The same was true, I’m sure, in the granting tax-exempt status to those medical facilities within the City.

The footprint cast by the combined total of these institutions, however, has grown to be enormous – as much as 45% of the total tax base of Providence by some estimates. Also, in a development never intended or anticipated by the original charter, these institutions have been allowed to purchase residential as well as commercial, income-producing properties and remove them from the City’s tax rolls altogether – regardless of their use. A 3-story apartment building being rented out for profit or a medical office building being rented out to private doctors for profit should not be exempt to property tax but in many cases this is exactly what is being done.

Many mayors have negotiated PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs with these institutions over the years. The problem with these agreements, however, is that those mayors have been more interested in short-term fixes for their budgets than long-term, sustainable agreements for the City. How else would you explain the ridiculously small amount of income captured by these agreements, the concessions the City has made to these institutions (such as actually selling City streets and parking spaces) or the downright temporary nature of some of these. In one agreement the City agreed to allow the tax-exempt institution to purchase property off the tax rolls as long as the institution agreed to pay full taxes on the property for 5 years, 50% taxes for the next 5 years and 25% taxes for the following 5 years, at which point the property would come off the tax rolls entirely. Such are the short-sighted, temporary fixes our leaders have forged for us thus far.

Those of us who live in Providence, work for or have retired from Providence as well as those who live in or pay taxes to the State of Rhode Island are all vested in the well-being of the Capitol City. The Mayor of Providence, along with the Providence City Council, has the ability to negotiate any type of PILOT program they want with these tax-exempts, but in order to make changes to the original charter which grants their tax-exempt status in the first place the General Assembly must initiate the action. One of Providence’s Reps in the General Assembly needs to take action and submit a bill that would change this agreement to something both sides can benefit from.

Times have changed…we must be fair!

Tom Kenney

Secretary, PPFRA (Providence Police and Firefighters’ Retirement Association)

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#9

Guest MINDSETTER™ Morse: Dying to Help

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Michael Morse

Yadira Arroyo, a FDNY EMT with fourteen years experience was killed last week, run down by a person who stole the vehicle she considered her home away from home. Over the course of her career she treated and transported thousands of people with similar conditions as the man who allegedly killed her. It comes with the territory; EMS is there for humanity, and we do not discriminate. 

Yadira did not survive her last patient encounter. Her luck ran out. When EMS responds to emergencies our faith in humanity is the only weapon we have. We do not carry guns like the police, and do not respond with a group like firefighters do. What we say and how we carry ourselves is our best defense against patients who sometimes cannot hear what we say, and see our actions as threats. 

The fire department is called for a variety of reasons. Nestled among the building fires, chest pain, intoxicated persons, building collapses, car accidents and other emergencies are a surprising number of calls for psychologically unstable patients. The labels vary, Emotional, Change of Mental Status, Anxious, Suicidal, but all are potentially dangerous.

Society is filled with people suffering from emotional and psychological problems. Many of these folks lead productive lives once helped by remarkably effective treatments; therapy and medication produce tangible results in the mentally ill. Some patients have given up on treatment, choosing to make their own way in the world unimpeded by modern medicine. Most are not successful. Many have no access to the healthcare system. Whether that is their own decision or beyond their control is irrelevant, what matters is there are a lot of untreated mentally ill people living among us.

I spent twenty-five years as a firefighter/EMT in a busy urban city (Providence, RI) splitting my time between firefighting duties and emergency medical response. There were plenty of times that I faced life-threatening challenges-most of them happening while on EMS calls. Fire is unpredictable. People are intelligent and unpredictable and have the capability of acting irrationally as well. 

Firefighters and police have earned the respect and admiration of most people they serve. EMT’s also earn that respect, but seldom experience any admiration. We find satisfaction by being there for the addicted, the mentally ill, the forgotten elderly and the poor. It is a more personal interaction with the people who live and work in the districts we are responsible for, and our interaction with the residents is what makes the job so satisfying.

The job is as satisfying as it is difficult. The hours are long, the pay relatively low and the risk extremely high. When transporting a person in the back of an ambulance it is a one on one experience. Those intimate encounters have the potential to quickly turn from a simple ride to the hospital into a life and death struggle. Assaults on EMS personnel are commonplace. Many of the assaults are not reported, and considered by both management and medics as “part of the job.”

That needs to stop. During my time on the streets, it was an everyday occurrence to be swung at, spit at, kicked, verbally assaulted and abused by the patients I was called to treat. Often, the police on scene cleared as soon as EMS arrived, leaving us with an unruly, mentally ill, impaired person. 

EMS professionals cannot restrain, subdue or abduct. Doing so is a violation of a person’s civil rights. There are no men in the white coats. We do not carry straitjackets. All we have is common sense, compassion and a willingness to help a person in need. Often, it is not enough.

A rapid intervention team consisting of a psychiatrist with power to commit a patient, a law enforcement officer with power to restrain a person against their will and a pair of EMT’s to provide support and transportation in a safe environment is what is needed on these type of calls. Until that happens we are sending undertrained, unarmed and overwhelmed people into dangerous situations. There needs to be a definitive approach to handling the mentally ill who call for help. The lack of a system currently used is a time bomb. You can hear it ticking if you care to listen.

Captain Michael Morse (ret.), [email protected], is the bestselling author of Rescuing Providence, Rescue 1 Responding, City Life and Mr. Wilson Makes it Home. Michael has been active in EMS since 1991 and offers his views on a variety of EMS and firefighting topics, focusing mainly on the interaction between patient and provider as a well-respected columnist and speaker. Captain Morse is a Johnson/Macoll fellow in literature from the Rhode Island Foundation. 

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#8

Kaplan: Innovation Lessons From Michelangelo

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Saul Kaplan, GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™

Michelangelo wasn’t a one-trick pony or a one-hit wonder. He was the archetype Renaissance artist, accomplished as a sculpture, painter, architect, and poet. Michelangelo produced iconic works, across disciplines, throughout the 88 years of his life. Many of Michelangelo’s works are still among the world’s most recognized and appreciated art ever created, five hundred years later, including the Pieta, David, Sistine Chapel, and Mona Lisa.

It’s hard to argue that Michelangelo wasn’t a genius and that he didn’t leverage his creative superpower to gain the right notoriety and sponsorships. It doesn’t hurt when Lorenzo de’ Medici invites you to live in his Florence palace! But something else is going on when Michelangelo sustains his production at such an amazingly high level across so many disciplines over almost a century. Michelangelo shared his secret on the celebration of his 87th birthday, just a year before he died, proclaiming, Ancora Imparo: Yet I Am Learning.

Michelangelo gave us incredible works of art but he also gave us the most important innovation insight and lesson. Learning curve matters above all else. Michelangelo is my new innovation hero and Ancora Imparo is my new innovation mantra. In a rapidly changing world learning and reinvention are the most important life skills. Not just when we’re young but throughout our lives. Innovators thrive on the steepest part of the learning curve where the changing rate of learning is the greatest. Watch how innovators, like Michelangelo, manage their careers and lives. They always put themselves on a steep learning curve. I know I always have.

Staying on a steep learning curve is the most important decision criterion for any career decision an innovator makes. Along the way innovators make many career moves none of which are primarily about titles, offices, number of direct reports, or money. Innovators believe those things are more likely to happen if they keep themselves on steep learning curves. Every choice to take a new tack or direction is about the next learning curve. Innovators are self aware enough to know they do their best work while learning at a rapid rate and are bored to tears when they aren’t. Steep learning curves matter most.

I have known many people who sacrificed learning curves for money and other extrinsic rewards and in the long run most ended up unhappy. In my experience innovators who follow their instincts and are in it for the learning always end up happier and making more money anyway.

Innovators always intuitively know when to leap from one learning curve to the next. They get restless when any curve starts to flatten out. Instead of enjoying the flat part of the curve where it takes less effort to produce more output, innovators get bored and want to find new learning curves where they can benefit from a rapidly changing rate of learning.

If the goal for innovators is to get better faster the only way to accomplish it is to live on the edge where the knowledge flows are the richest. It isn’t the most comfortable place to be.

It’s understandable why most people only suffer the pain of the steep part of the learning curve, not for the kick of learning, but to finally reach the flat part of the curve. 

Once arriving it’s easy to plant a flag, claim victory and to camp there with no sense of urgency to move to another curve once the plateau is reached. It is comfortable on the flat part of the curve where the workload lessens and rewards are only available to those that have paid their dues and put in the time to scale the curve.

Yet innovators seem to extract what they need from the steep part of the curve and leap off to do it again moving on to the steep part of the next curve just when the effort required to further climb the current curve gets easier.

Innovators are less interested in squeezing marginal value from continuing to scale existing learning curves than finding the next learning curve to climb. They take what they have learned from each curve and cross-pollinate other curves with their interdisciplinary experiences. Think Michelangelo. Innovators are disruptive to those who think they can continue to hang on to a single learning curve throughout their careers and lives. Ideas from each learning curve are combined and recombined to create amazing art, new ways to deliver value, and to solve the most important problems we face.

Staying on a learning curve as the rate of learning slows down is no way to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. It won’t work for people, organizations, or communities. We are all vulnerable to being disrupted and far too many of our fellow citizens already have been. We would all do well to take an innovation lesson from Michelangelo.

Ancora Imparo, Yet I Am Learning, is the new innovation mantra. Optimize for learning. Always.

Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.

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#7

Guest MINDSETTER™ Rep. Hull: Time for Providence to Reestablish Residency

Monday, April 03, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Rep. Ray Hull

The best decision I ever made as a police officer wasn’t something I did on the job. It was when I bought my house on Mt. Pleasant Avenue. I chose to stay in Providence, where I grew up and where I am privileged to serve as a police officer and a state representative. 

Living in Providence means I don’t only see the city’s residents at their worst moments, when they’ve been the victim of a crime or made a choice that led to them being arrested. Instead, they’re the neighbors I see at church, at the grocery store, and when we shovel our driveways together after a storm. When they need my help, I’m here and can quickly address their concerns. More importantly, people know they can approach me because I’m a neighbor, not a stranger in a blue uniform. This wouldn’t happen if I worked from nine to five then drove home to the suburbs.

Unfortunately, most city employees didn’t make the same choice I did. Sixty-five percent of municipal workers, and 82% of the police and fire department, live somewhere else. Right now, the public safety commissioner takes his salary of over $155,000 home to pay property taxes in Cranston where he resides. Providence’s police chief takes his money to East Greenwich, while the Director of Emergency Management takes his paycheck home to Portsmouth. 

I know from personal experience that Providence’s employees are devoted to their jobs, but there is no substitute for residency to make city workers true stakeholders in our city’s success. The mayor and state legislature need to reexamine the residency requirement for city workers. This was the law until 2005 and changing it was a big mistake by Rhode Island’s lawmakers.

Government functions best when it’s employees are personally invested in the community they serve. A residency requirement would make Providence’s workforce more diverse without having to resort to hiring quotas or controversial affirmative action plans. Additionally, when city workers pay the taxes that fund their salaries and benefits, unions are more likely to weigh the financial impacts of their demands instead of viewing city taxpayers as an ATM that will never run out of money. The city pays generous salaries and good benefits. It’s only fair that the money stays in our economy rather than going to places like Cranston, Barrington, East Greenwich, and other communities.

Residency requirements would immediately reduce income inequality in Providence. In my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of positive change here in the capital city. But at the same time, our middle-class has been hollowed out just like most major cities, especially in the last decade. There are increasingly two Providences – one for wealthy professionals and another for low-income residents struggling to make ends meet. Keeping middle-class municipal jobs in our city would help change that dynamic

As a candidate for mayor, Jorge Elorza vowed to require all his department heads to live in Providence. Instead, the mayor’s actions haven’t lived up to his promises. Many of his directors, including the leadership of Public Safety, Public Works, and the Emergency Management Department, live outside the city. The most recent class of police academy recruits, the first one under Mayor Elorza, draws only a third of its members from city residents. Of that third, many will leave Providence as soon as they become police officers. The same pattern will be true of the new firefighters and teachers hired by Elorza’s administration. Regrettably, his campaign trail commitment was just empty rhetoric.

Residency works. It makes city workers invested in the community they serve. It boosts the city’s economy and reduces income inequality. Unions ask for more reasonable contracts since their members pay the taxes that fund their salaries. Residency is an idea whose time has come.  

Ray Hull is a state representative in District 6 (Providence/North Providence) and a sergeant with the Providence Police Department.

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#6

Guest MINDSETTER™ Schoos: Burdened Tenants, Evictions, & Still No Access to Justice Commission in RI

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Geoff Schoos, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTER™

Rhode Island has an affordable housing problem. There isn’t enough affordable housing to meet demand. According to HousingWorks RI, 40% of Rhode Island households rent apartments. These renters, ideally, should spend no more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs, including rent, insurance, utilities, and other housing related expenses. Any more than 30% indicates that the renter is cost burdened.

HousingWorks reports that in 2014, 52% of all renters were cost burdened. This is an increase of 41% since the year 2000. Being cost burdened limits a tenant’s ability to participate in the local economy, with fewer resources devoted to feeding and clothing kids, purchasing transportation, saving money, and meeting the other expenses that we incur in our daily lives.

Being cost burdened can be financially lethal to low-income people, who tend mostly to be tenants. One limitation cost burdens impose is on a tenant’s ability to pay the rent. For example, my agency had a client who received Social Security benefits, who spent 62% of his income on his rent. He had two small kids who needed to be fed and clothed. Needless to say, this created a financial instability that often put him at odds with the landlord.

Recently, due to reasons not related to his tenancy, he was forced to relocate. The landlord provided him substantial financial support, if he moved within a 90 day period. My client, a friend, and I spent 89 of those days trying to find some place suitable and cost effective for a family of three with limited financial resources. On the 89th day, we obtained an apartment that ultimately consumes 69% of his income. For too many people, cost effective rental housing for low-income households doesn’t exist in Rhode Island.

One of the reasons that he and his family could keep a roof over his head was because my former agency was there for him. As you might guess, my client would eventually run into trouble with the landlord. Being cost burdened required that he adopt a “rob Peter to pay Paul” approach to his monthly finances. That might work for a while but sooner or later Peter wants to get paid.

This is a unique story because my client had legal services to advocate on his behalf. Most low-income tenants don’t have that support. When low-income tenants come to the inevitable decision to pay partial or no monthly rent to the landlord in order to meet other necessary expenses, the landlord will eventually come to collect. And failing collection will start eviction proceedings against the tenant.

The indigent tenant will often either appear pro se, or not appear at the court hearing. Appearing pro se against an experienced attorney is often a fool’s errand, with the outcome not much in doubt. Not appearing will definitely result in a default judgment for possession of the premises and money. An eviction, whether through a contested hearing or by default can seriously erode a tenant’s ability to find housing in the future.

Evictions are catastrophic. They force an evicted tenant to seek housing that is too often substandard. There are many landlords, who exist below the radar, who will provide housing with rodent and insect infestations, inadequate utilities, and housing that is structurally unsound to previously evicted tenants. Many tenants do not complain because they fear being out on the street more than they fear living in unsafe, unsound, and unhealthy squalor.

Tenants too often fare no better in public housing. Section 8 provides subsidized rent either through a public housing facility or by voucher. If a tenant who receives Section 8 subsidies is evicted, he will receive a renter’s death sentence – lifetime exclusion from any subsidized housing program. That tenant then joins the scrum in the private rental market, looking for the holy grail of rentals: a safe, affordable, secure rental unit.

Tenants, even those who wantonly shirk their responsibilities, have rights. One right is to have a fair hearing before a court, one that because of her inability to procure legal assistance doesn’t look like a Star Chamber proceeding. In any court proceeding, especially when one party is represented, due process would dictate that that other party be represented as well. Sadly, that often isn’t the case.

There are efforts to address the challenge of the unrepresented tenant in an eviction proceeding. But these efforts, while important and necessary, will likely fall short of the mark. Providing limited representation and easy access to court forms is a poor substitute for an attorney who is familiar with legal nuance, the formal rules of the court, and is equal in training and experience as the landlord’s attorney on the other side. As I understand these efforts, they are tantamount to placing a knife in the hand of a tenant and sending him on his way to a gunfight.

Our concept of justice requires that all hearings be fair and impartial, and that each of the parties has access to an advocate. When only one side is represented, outcomes are inconsistent, making justice illusory. This is unacceptable.

This begs the overall question: how do we protect the rights of all parties in any adversarial proceeding?  While the District Courts might be consumed with an excessive number of pro se litigants, which studies have indicated puts them at a distinct legal disadvantage, eviction issues only touch the surface of a vast legal iceberg. Indigent litigants are too often unrepresented in domestic relations, debt collections, benefit suspension and appeals matters. What of them?

Four years ago, resources were distributed to Rhode Island for the creation of an Access to Justice Commission and we still have no Commission, leaving well intentioned community and legal advocacy organizations, supplemented by academic resources, to try to resolve these issues of indigent representation and assistance on a piecemeal basis.

Those of us who have worked on these issues don’t need another study to confirm what we know. Nor do we need a limited piecemeal focus on a broad and daunting problem. A litigant’s rights ought not depend on the fact that she falls into the legal category for which limited assistance is available. That’s not justice. That’s a roll of the legal dice.

Four years have passed since resources were awarded by the ABA to establish an Access to Justice Commission. Four years where nothing got started, let alone accomplished. During that time, peoples’ rights were harmed due to inaction and neglect.

This is unacceptable and we can and must do better. This is a solvable problem. What we need is leadership and commitment. An Access to Justice Commission would be a good start.

Geoffrey A. Schoos, Esq is the past President of the former Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy.    

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#5

Exclusion, Whitehouse, and Bailey’s Beach - Guest MINDSETTER™ Mike Araujo

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Mike Araujo

The history of exclusion in this country is widely known and in many ways the defining feature of our nation. Segregation is insidious in that it takes multiple forms, first in the official way where laws and commerce have rules of exclusion. Though we have reformed or eliminated most Jim Crow laws official racism is sticky. Best illustrated by Santander bank which settled a lawsuit in 2014 for denying Black Rhode Islanders home loans, or steering them away from majority white communities, in a process called red-lining. To laws which target specific communities usually Black communities with over policing and disparate sentencing for similar crimes, like longer sentences for crack and shorter sentences for the same amount or more for powder cocaine. This is de-jura segregation and is in many ways much easier to address, activism, advocacy, and confrontation is the recipe for change.

The harder to change are the customs that can serve as ready a barrier as a cop and his club. This exclusion comes in the form of traditions and practices that keep people out of some places. Though on the surface they may be open to all the experience of the excluded can be all but welcoming. For example, being ignored by service workers, followed in stores, charged different rates, or not being offered what the majority population gets offered. Clubhouses and bars that do not hire Black people for service positions or send shade when people of color enter thus rendering theses place truly unwelcome to people of color. This is de-facto segregation, or segregation outside the law, not necessarily illegal but exclusionary and racist all the same.

Senator Whitehouse’s position on his membership of the historically restricted Bailey’s Beach Club deeply disappointing yet not surprising. Racism is the air we breathe in this country, there is no place, absolutely no place that can be named that was not the site of a forcible removal or slaughter of indigenous people, or the trade, whipping, and forced labor of Black people. The air we breathe we can’t see and its presence is not noticed by those who benefit from it. The labor, removal, loans, and laws, that hinder one and lift up the other makes the air refreshing for those who benefit. For those of us Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and in the case of private clubs Jewish, the air is choking.  I hope that Senator Whitehouse can see that his membership in this club is carrying on a tradition of exclusion that is rooted in violence and suffering. Whatever rationale he may offer for membership is simply not good enough, he simply should walk away and encourage those other members of Bailey’s Beach Club who have the heart to join him.

However, outside of Bailey’s swank and barred beaches there is another club that he is a member of that carries much of the same restrictions that his beach club offers. A tradition of upholding and pushing racist policies and practices. Of course, I am talking about the U.S. Senate. Only 10 Black Senators and only 5 of Indigenous descent in 241years. What decisions would Senator Pinchback have made had he been allowed to take his rightful seat? We will never know because his fellow US Senators denied him his rightful place. The first Black elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly wasn’t until 1977 and he was denied his seat by his colleagues. This is the tradition of exclusion in our “elected clubs” that warrant the closest scrutiny, along with Bailey’s Beach Club.

Michael Araujo is Executive Director of RI Jobs With Justice

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#4

Finneran: Cardinal Law

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tom Finneran, GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™

The simple utterance of his name causes Catholics to grind their teeth.

He was one of us.

Even more than that, he held a position of very high honor and responsibility within a precious and global faith.

He seemed to enjoy the honor part. He failed--miserably, spectacularly, and criminally--at the responsibility part.

The crimes that he covered up remain a raw and gaping wound for the victims. The crimes that he covered up stand as a colossal and eternal shame on the Catholic Church. Faithful Catholics shudder at the damage and degradation enabled by Mr. Law.

The first order of his victims are the young innocent and vulnerable children who were sexually abused by predator priests. Rather than the receiving the guidance and protection they deserved, they were groped and raped and threatened by people whom their parents revered and whom they themselves trusted. The crimes committed against them were and are a profound betrayal of everything decent and everything Catholic.

The second order of victims were the hundreds and hundreds of good priests whose calling to a life of faith became an object of ridicule and contempt. Law’s cowardice and criminality washed over these good men, staining their lives and reputations, making them targets of suspicion and shame. That many of these good and honorable priests would have throttled and jailed the handful of abusers who shamed the Roman collar, I have no doubt. Their righteous anger would have mirrored Jesus’ biblical anger at the money-changers who defiled his house of worship. Law had no such sense of honor. Any sense of indignation he may have held for the predators got subordinated to his desire for the red hat. Such a precious trinket was the red hat, now and forever cheapened by his dark secrets and grotesque crimes.

The third order of victims are the faithful parishioners who make up the heart and soul of the Catholic Church. To say that they were stunned by the revelations of predator priests and Law’s willful cover-up is the understatement of all time. Their faith was shaken. Indeed, their faith was shattered that such evil had cloaked itself within the shrouds of the “leaders” of their faith. Many of them left the Church, never to return. Others wept, stunned at the magnitude of the crime, but holding on for dear life to the teachings of Jesus which animated their lives. Many still weep.

The fourth order of victims is the Church itself. The history of the Catholic Church needs no embellishment. No organization in the history of the world has done more to feed, to clothe, to house, to educate, and to heal millions of people around the globe. Catholic education is renowned. Catholic hospitals and clinics are legendary outposts of humane care. Catholic priests and nuns are the embodiment of a living faith, a faith brought to life in Matthew’s gospel of ministering to the least among us. Law’s crimes spread an indelible stain on those good people and their good works.

Faithful Catholics believe that a sincere act of contrition and penance paves the way for passage into the kingdom of heaven and eternal life. Perhaps Cardinal Law reflected on his crimes and made such contrition and penance. I just wish that there had been a more visible and humble life of faithful service—in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter—rather than spending his remaining days in a Vatican palace. More Mother Teresa and less red hat nonsense would have gone a long way with some of us.

The Lord’s Prayer is part of the service at every Catholic Mass. The eternal challenge of that prayer is forgiveness—“....forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.......”. Many faithful attendees tremble at the thought of forgiving those whose crimes know no bounds, those who could have stopped the predator rampage with one word. That Law failed to stop it leaves me cold and unforgiving, in a very un-Christian like fury.

Lucky for Law, I leave his final judgement to Jesus.

 

 

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio

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#3

Guest MINDSETTER™ Arne Duncan, “A Promise Worth Keeping”

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Arne Duncan, Guest MINDSETTER™

For as long as I’ve been involved in education policy, Democrats have always been the party that embraces education as an investment and a pathway out of poverty. As President Trump threatens to cut education funding and derail efforts to expand opportunity and make college more affordable, future generations are counting on Democratic leaders at the state level to make investments the federal government will not.

Your governor is one of the leaders people are counting on.

In just two years, Governor Gina Raimondo has put Rhode Island on a pathway to be the first state in America to offer computer science at every grade and in every school in the state. Because of investments to expand Pre-K and guarantee every child access to all-day kindergarten, Rhode Island’s youngest learners are building a foundation for success. High school students across Rhode Island are now able to take the PSAT and SAT at no cost and thousands of high schoolers are taking college courses – and earning college credits – for free. 

Rhode Island is making record investments in K-12 education, including a proposed $45 million increase in the budget currently being considered. And after years without any investment in school construction, Governor Raimondo lifted the moratorium when she took office and has invested tens of millions of dollars in school construction, which has put Rhode Islander laborers back to work.

She understands that high-quality instruction in science, technology, engineering and math can provide students with a lens to approach and view the world. Because she gets it, there’s a good chance that the next Mark Zuckerburg is a Latina student from South Providence learning to code at Central High School right now. 

If we truly want that for our kids, we need to support them beyond high school. If we truly want to ensure that today’s students are equipped to compete for the jobs businesses are creating, we must ensure that every student has an opportunity to attend college.

Since the start of 2010, the United States has added 11.6 million jobs. Of those, only 80,000 went to people who had a high school degree or less. By 2020, more than 70 percent of the jobs in Rhode Island will require some degree or credential beyond high school. That’s not entirely unique. Nationally, it’s about 65 percent. In Rhode Island, though, only four out of 10 working-age residents (and three out of 10 African Americans and one out of five Latinos) have completed a certificate or degree after high school. 

For too many, the greatest barrier to higher education is cost. For some, just $500 or $1,000 stand in the way of the opportunity to compete. Fifty-one percent – more than half – of low-income students who start college, fail to graduate within six years. By and large, they’re good students. But cost gets in the way.

The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship proposal builds ladders of opportunity for all Rhode Island students. 

The scholarship, which guarantees every Rhode Island student an opportunity to attend the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College or University of Rhode Island for two years tuition-free, knocks down the most urgent barrier preventing Rhode Islanders from earning a degree. 

Cost should not be a barrier to getting a degree or credential, and Rhode Islanders should be able to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free.

While those statements are lifted directly from the Democratic National Committee’s and Rhode Island Democratic Party’s respective platforms, opportunity shouldn’t be a partisan issue. To get a good job in today’s economy and create pathways to the middle class, we need to make the necessary investments to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get the skills and education they need to compete. It’s an investment that will have a significant return.

Governor Raimondo’s Rhode Island Promise Scholarship proposal offers a pathway to opportunity. As importantly, it provides businesses and other employers with better access to talented workers. And perhaps, it will propel one of those students from South Providence to start the next Facebook, the next Airbnb or a cancer-curing research organization.

Arne Duncan is a managing partner of the Emerson Collective and former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama. 

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#2

Robert Whitcomb: Raimondo Status, Medical Cost-Shifting to the States & Saving the Citgo Sign

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

Budget Bathos: Raimondo Status Report; Pan-Eurasian Mafia Government; Medical Cost-Shifting to the States; Saving the Citgo Sign

It’s entertaining to watch Trump voters, including congressional Republicans, push back against the myopic, incoherent and often ignorance-based Trump federal budget program as they find more and more parts of it that hurt them.  Indeed, many Trump-voting constituents depend on federal programs that Mr. Trump seeks to axe. Good luck, suckers and hypocrites! More to come on this.

''Don’t Tax You. Don’t Tax Me. Tax That Fellow Behind the Tree''

-- The late Louisiana Senate Russell Long

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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was understandably pleased when the state’s unemployment rate fell below the national average in January, to 4.7 percent, for the first time in almost 12 years. Meanwhile, some high-profile companies have moved to the state or expanded there and there’s quite a lot of new construction underway. To me, the best news has been that the big projects at the Route 195 relocation land are starting to get cooking and that rapidly growing  United Natural  Foods Inc. is now based in Providence.

How much of this was due to Ms. Raimondo’s leadership? Economics has so many variables that it’s hard to say. For that matter, the Ocean State is so tiny it’s hard to say that there’s a “Rhode Island economy.’’ It’s part of the much bigger regional, national and international economies. And note that a shrinking state workforce explains at least some of the recent jobless-rate drops.

I would say, however, that Ms. Raimondo’s knowledge of business and national connections as a former venture capitalist, her willingness to implement long-overdue reforms and her calm and intelligence have indeed inspired confidence in firms that might be candidates for moving to or expanding in the state. That she’s willing to get very able people from outside the state with fresh perspectives to join her administration rather than  automatically pick well-connected Rhode Islanders (“I know a  guy…’’) has also been good, although it has, along with her fancy education, gotten her labeled an “elitist,’’ which I don’t believe this daughter of middle-class Rhode Islanders considers herself. The more new people moving into Rhode Island the better, to dilute the parochialism that is at the root of many of its political and economic problems.

As in many states, her administration has had headaches with big computer systems (e.g., public benefits and the Division of Motor Vehicles). Could she have headed these headaches off by firing people faster who were charged with getting them going but didn’t succeed? Probably.

Hire Republican Ken Block, a brilliant systems guy, to oversee state computer systems?  That would be exciting.

Ms. Raimondo has gotten a lot of flak from some people about what former Gov. Lincoln Chafee calls the “candy store’’ approach of using tax incentives to lure businesses. I share a lot of this dislike. It can create a race to the bottom as states compete to get sexy companies. As I’ve written here before, for long-term economic success, jurisdictions must focus on broad improvements, especially in education and infrastructure. The governor says she is focusing on those things but the $130 million in tax incentives so far in her term understandably get a lot of attention. And how do you make these companies stay?

Pretty much every state and large city play the tax-incentive game in varying degrees.

Of course, the governor thinks that attracting such big companies as General Electric to set up new operations in the state signals to other companies that it’s now a good place to do business and,  they find, a beautiful place to live for many.

She has had some success in changing the perception of out-of-staters about the Ocean State so that many have come to believe that the Rhode Island is finally, if slowly, fixing its business climate. The deeply embedded tribalism, negativity and cynicism in the state militate against her but I believe she’s making progress – two steps ahead, one step back.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that Rhode Islanders would like to see an updated list of companies that have decided to stay and grow in the state as a result of Raimondo administration policies.

On two big issues she’s been embroiled in: the car tax, about which she is less enthusiastic about cutting than some other politicians, and “free college’’ for two years:

Cutting or eliminating the car tax, as hated as it is, will have little or no effect on the state’s economy.  And rather than “free college,’’ it might make far more sense to put some of the tax revenue to be spent on subsidizing students into creating a public-private vocational education system (including apprenticeships) like that which has been so successful in Germany.  And even more important is pushing aside  Rhode Island special interests in order to adopt a  K-12 public-education system with the rigor of Massachusetts’s, which has helped make the Bay State so prosperous in the past couple of decades.

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The endless hacking, theft, and sabotage directed against the American government, business and individuals by people working for the Russian government suggests, among other things, how pathetic the Russian economy is. Oil and gas sales are big, but much of the economy involves criminal behavior, a lot of it run out of the Kremlin. Thus a giant Mafia controlling a large part of Eurasia.

A good example of how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s regime operates came last fall in tiny Montenegro, in the Balkans, when the Kremlin tried to have Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic assassinated in order to derail Montenegro’s attempt to join NATO.

The government of the tiny Balkan nation plans to indict two Russian intelligence agents who reportedly spent a few months training some Serbians to seize the parliament building and kill Mr. Djuknanovic. (Serbians tend to be pro-Russian.) The two agents are safely back in Russia now.

Mr. Putin has long seen murder as a standard operating procedure.

But in any event, Montenegro is still due to join NATO in May.

xxx

Steve Bannon, who may well be President Trump’s closest adviser outside of the Trump family itself, has made a recent career of touting the need to reenergize the cultural and moral aspects of Western Civilization. But his chaotic and corrupt personal life suggests that he could use some civilizing himself. For example, read:.

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The publication of President Trump’s federal tax return for 2005 wasn’t worth much: Only two pages were available. The public has no clear idea of where his income came from and or a plethora of other details that would help explain or at least suggest what he’s been up to.

His hiding of his finances as president is scary because, among other things, we don’t know how beholden he is to foreign entities. We do know that his family is moving ASAP  around the world to use their presidential proximity to further enrich themselves as much as and as fast as possible.

In the end, a court order and congressional subpoena may be needed to get the president’s tax information from the IRS. National security may be at stake.

xxx

Not unexpectedly, President Trump is pushing to roll back Obama administration rules requiring that cars run at 54.4 miles a gallon of fuel by 2025, up from 27.5 miles per gallon. That is projected to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2 million gallons of oil a day by 2025. Thus the Obama rules would be good for the environment and good for national security by reducing our need for oil, much of which still comes from nasty places abroad.

Car company senior executives always say that they can’t meet new fuel standards but because of always developing technology they always do. In so doing, they’re making more efficient, better-engineered cars. But they’ll take the easy way out if they can to maximize their short-term profits. Senior execs rarely hold their jobs for more than five years so why should they worry much about bad PR about the long-term environment?  Their children and grandchildren can fret about global warming.

But global warming aside, what about cleaner air?

Meanwhile, such nasties associated with global warming as acidification of the oceans and the consequent death of coral reefs goes on.

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It seems that the coldest part of our winter this year comes at the end, after the jet stream flipped and decided to send the warm weather Out  West and much-below temperatures to the Upper Midwest and New England. It’s doing a number on the plants brought out of hiding by the almost summery weather we had just a few weeks ago. They say that New England weather builds character but it’s just as likely to build bitterness.

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The Congressional Budget Office figures that the Republican healthcare bill would reduce the federal budget deficit by $337 billion through fiscal 2026. I doubt that, but even assuming that it’s true, it doesn’t project how much the bill could cost the states.

A problem is that every state mandates that all sick and/or injured people who show up in inefficient and expensive hospital emergency rooms (which is most of them), and indeed at many other providers, must be treated regardless of ability to pay. There will be a heightened flood of such people at ERs over the next few years if the GOP bill is enacted because many of these folks would no longer have coverage that has let them get preventive treatment as part of a regular clinical relationship with a physician, especially with a primary-care doctor.

Hospitals and other providers and state governments would have to eat much of the cost of caring for the low-income people cast off with the demise of the Affordable Care Act. Unless state governments decide that they’ll just let a lot of poor people die on the street. Now that’s libertarian!

As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in 2006 in explaining his health-insurance plan for the Bay State: “Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate {as in the future Affordable Care Act}. But remember, someone must pay for the healthcare that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay.’’

As for the alleged evil of “individual mandates,’’ states have long had them for auto insurance, and generally, those who want to own a home are compelled to buy property insurance to get mortgages.

In any event, the Republican healthcare plan, among other things, is a great big inefficient cost-shifting to the states.

There are elements of the GOP approach that, in principle, have merit. For instance, the Trump administration wants the states to charge Medicaid patients at least some premiums, require them to pay part of their emergency-room charges (Medicaid patients tend to overuse ER’s) and push recipients to get jobs. These changes might reduce some of the vast amount of waste pervasive in American healthcare. And everyone should be reminded that healthcare is never “free’’; it’s just a question of who’s paying for it. But what percentage of Medicaid folks can meet these demands is unknown.  Many of them are already under a lot of economic and other stress.

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The famous glowing Citgo sign atop a building at Boston’s Kenmore Square will be saved, thus keeping fresh in the minds of now aging Baby Boomer potheads a significant landmark from their youth. Boston officials helped broker a deal between Citgo and a real estate company with the weird name of Related Beal to keep the sign up.  The current, “psychedelic’’ version of the sign went up in 1965, just in time to appeal to the hordes of mostly young people in the area who were “experimenting’’ with marijuana.

Daniel Bluestone, an architecture-history professor at Boston University, told The Boston Globe he was very happy about the agreement: “It’s a landmark in the truest sense of the word. It helps people know where they are.”   Above-the-street landmarks are particularly important in a city with as confused a layout as Boston.

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#1

What RI Needs in Next AG: Guest MINDSETTER™ Siedle

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Guest MINDSETTER™ Edward Siedle

The next Attorney General of Rhode Island should be prepared to spearhead an unprecedented investigation of the largest financial crime in the state’s history—looting of the $8 billion state pension fund. A forensic investigation into the current Governor and State Treasurer’s reckless gambling of public monies for their political advantage is required at the get-go.

The next Attorney General must be committed to relentlessly prosecuting wrongdoers however powerful they may be—including elected officials—who have betrayed the public trust.

The next Attorney General of Rhode Island should be a perennial outsider—a thorn in the side of the political establishment and not a member of the club.

The next Attorney General must have an understanding of complex financial crimes, i.e., pay-to-play schemes which have cost taxpayers over a $1 billion to date. Prosecutors and law enforcement, including the FBI, generally “don’t get” stealing billions without guns and victims (state officials) who refuse to report crimes (losses) in which they themselves are complicit.

The next Attorney General of Rhode Island must vigorously enforce the state’s Access to Public Records laws and bring an end to five years of escalating secrecy. The Raimondo/Magaziner lack of transparency has fostered wrongdoing over the past five years.

To stop the scamming, end the secrecy.

Finally, the next Attorney General of Rhode Island should have a demonstrated track record. Rhode Island doesn’t need another do-nothing AG to follow in the current AG’s footsteps.

To my knowledge, no Attorney General in the nation has ever dared to target public pension corruption involving elected officials.

That means either elected officials never use public pension assets for their political advantage or prosecuting such crimes amounts to political suicide. Which seems more likely to you?   

Edward Siedle is a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who currently writes for Forbes, and is currently in line to receive the biggest whistleblower award in SEC history. 

 
 

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