April 20, 2010

Achorn: RI's Problems Reflected in Your Mirror

Marc Comtois

ProJo's Ed Achorn agrees that the unions have a big hand in running the state. But he emphasizes that they aren't to blame.

If there is a public enemy number one, it's not [AFL-CIO President George] Nee. He's just exploiting the system to enrich himself and the people who empower him. He does a very good job of it.

No, the real enemy of the common good stares back at the voters in the mirror every morning.

They are the ones who elect willing puppets, instead of men and women determined to break the strings.

They are the ones who have ignored years of warnings that our policy of running government to benefit special interests is not working out very well.

Achorn concludes that we are left to conclude that RI voters like what has happened to their state. That they like the master lever, an industrial-age education system, cuts in student programs for the sake of keeping contract "promises," public employees retiring in their 40s and 50s, bad roads, high taxes and hidden fees, etc. It's obvious that Achorn thinks it would be asinine to support such things, so he's putting them in black and white in the hopes of having it hit home with the readers. My only fear is that he may actually be right: I'm beginning to think that the majority of Rhode Islanders do like the way things are.

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I've been saying the exact same thing in the comments section on this site for a long time. Nee, Walsh, Crowley, Reback shouldn't be blamed for doing their job. They're that jerk you hate when they play for the other team, but will be your best friend when they're on your team. They play the game very well. They know how it works and they play it. That's all. Guess what would happen if RI elected some people who weren't as quick to give them everything they wanted and to set them up with a great environment to succeed. The problem is much of the electorate is dumb. They go with the last name they read, or they pull that master lever. If "Smith for State Rep" is the last name they see or hear of, or the only one they hear of, before going into the booth, they'll check off "Smith".

RI needs a great re-education program to what's going on. Someone (Gio?) needs to buy a bunch of tv advertising and just go through it all, 30 seconds at a time. Show Fox bumbling through the supplemental budget, show him refusing to even take a vote on having to pay for health care, show Constantino taking 5 months to put a supplemental budget together for the House to vote on, only to get rejected by the Senate. Show what using up the rainy day fund would do to the state's bond rating, as the Senate and people like Tom Sgouros want to do. Show the ties between people like John Tassoni and Anastasia Williams and the unions and ask if there is a conflict of interest there. The possibilities are endless.

This is where the Moderate and Republican parties should be spending their money. On 30 second commercials during Wheel of Fortune every night. Don't bother with the Jeopardy half-hour, most RI voters can't figure out why the contestants keep asking questions.

Posted by: Patrick at April 20, 2010 9:30 AM

"My only fear is that he may actually be right: I'm beginning to think that the majority of Rhode Islanders do like the way things are."

Mmmm you're getting close, but what you folks should be drawing from this is that RI voters like the alternative offered by certain editorialists and bloggers even less!

"It is rare that the public sentiment decides immorally or unwisely, and the individual who differs from it ought to distrust and examine well his own opinion." --Thomas Jefferson to William Findley. 1801.

Posted by: Russ at April 20, 2010 9:34 AM

When people are simply responding to perverted incentives, don't expect their behavior to change until the incentives change. That being said, every person must ultimately take a proportional part of the responsibility for the actions of any organization with which they willingly associate themselves. If you do not hold every individual responsible for bad group behavior, you will get more bad group behavior. The one possible exception is somebody who is actively engaged in the organization for the purpose of doing everything within their power to turn the organization around.

This means that every single union member is responsible, every single representative is responsible, and every single voter is responsible, except the ones who are doing everything within their power to reform the rotten system of which they are a part. Don't worry, it's not a long list.

Posted by: Dan at April 20, 2010 9:37 AM

While (ultimately) RI's voters are at fault, often they have no alternative on the ballot, and when they do they sometimes actively embrace the alternative, e.g., Don Carcieri's win last time in spite of a terrible Republican year and unions pulling out all the stops for "Charlie."

This is why if the RIGOP offered real alternatives instead of Democrat Lite they'd have a shot at making some inroads.

But what is interesting is that RI is not alone in embracing long-term decline. California now has the disease, and Michigan, New York, New Jersey have all been experiencing the same thing for several years.

As was observed (by Alexis de Tocqueville I believe), once people in democracies realize that they can vote themselves largesse from the treasury, the end begins.

Well, that has been occurring in RI, not just with the welfare population, but also placed on steroids with the public sector unions (again, a multi-state and increasingly national phenomenon).

The Tea Party participants recognize what is occurring -- some directly, some intuitively -- and what the end-result will be. Which is why they're trying to get this country to reverse course back to our founding principles.

One hopes that it's not already too late. RI is probably a lost cause -- at least until after the collapse which, like a forest fire, may set the stage for eventual renewal. But there is still (some) hope for the country.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at April 20, 2010 10:08 AM

"As was observed (by Alexis de Tocqueville I believe), once people in democracies realize that they can vote themselves largesse from the treasury, the end begins."

Yes, that's sometimes attributed to him but also to Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Fraser Tytler, and many others.

The Truth About Tytler

Who penned the above words? If one were to put one's faith in the reliability of the internet, the obvious answer would be Alexander Tytler. Or Alexander Tyler. Or Arnold Toynbee. Or Lord Thomas Macaulay. Or...

The truth is that despite their frequent use, the above text actually has its origins in two separate and independent quotes, and the author of the first half is, to date, unknown.

One can only wonder why a group that claims to represent a return to our "founding principles" can't get their quotes straight. Never mind why these nativists would [mis]quote a Frenchman in the first place!

Posted by: Russ at April 20, 2010 10:28 AM

I'm still not sure Rhode Island is ready for change...

I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with 'regular folks' at pubs and restaurants who can't wrap their heads around simple concepts like closing schools and laying off teachers -when there are too few students-, or the same for police when crime is at historic lows, or closing fire stations when there's obviously excellent coverage regardless.

I was chatting with a guy a few weeks ago who says that he votes for his rep. not because he agrees with her, but because he knows her and worries about how she'll be able to afford her own health care.

Most of my friends have degrees (many have advanced degrees), but are working at coffee shops, waiting around for state jobs to open up. I can't blame them, the state offers the best job security, great benefits, and often pays quite a premium over comparable private-sector titles.

Entitlement culture runs deep here, everyone wants to shore-up the public-sector jobs because they hope to get one, or marry someone who has.

I think 45 of the Gen. Assembly went uncontested in 2008. That should show you the level of apathy we're dealing with.

Posted by: mangeek at April 20, 2010 12:45 PM

mangeed wrote:
"Most of my friends have degrees (many have advanced degrees), but are working at coffee shops, waiting around for state jobs to open up"

Well, with the free health care that the Assembly members get and the 45 uncontested seats you refer to, maybe they should run for office!

Posted by: Patrick at April 20, 2010 12:59 PM

Hate to admit it, but Achorn's on to something. It's the classic "They're all corrupt...but not MY guy" syndrome.
I've lived in North Providence for 19 years, and habitually vote against my incumbent legislators. I realize they're corrupt, but then again, I'm a newbie LOL. They're precisely the kind of folks Achorn is talking about, but when folks finally appear to be on to them, they turn on the gay and immigrant bashing, voters here lap up the pablum.
And they wonder why we have problems.

Posted by: rhody at April 20, 2010 3:00 PM

Seems a bit similar to the:
"Yeah, GW is best friends with the crooks at Enron"
(but MY crooks)
"Yes, Cheney and Bush are oil men"
(but MY oil guys)
"Wars are good for the economy "
(especially my "right" to an SUV and cheap gas)
"Wall Street and business know MUCH more than regulators ever will"
(as long a I am making money off them).

etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

So what else is new? For any human being to support the Republican part of the last decade or more, they have to look past the 80% plus of the crooked and selfish things the GOP does....TO the 20% crooked and selfish things the GOP does for THEM.

Of course, even on that end they are wrong, because the same sharks end up eating them.....

Posted by: Stuart at April 20, 2010 6:01 PM

Stuart-did you make your fortune investing in alfalfa sprout futures?I bet not,but you're too gutless to answer honestly.
Rhody-what you know about the immigration issue would fit in a condom with room for a full load.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 20, 2010 6:16 PM

Speaking of sharks Stuey....
Can the recipient of these contributions "reform" anything?? Including his increasingly corrupt reputation?

University of California $1,591,395
Goldman Sachs $994,795
Harvard University $854,747
Microsoft Corp $833,617
Google Inc $803,436
Citigroup Inc $701,290
JPMorgan Chase & Co $695,132
Time Warner $590,084
Sidley Austin LLP $588,598
Stanford University $586,557
National Amusements Inc $551,683
UBS AG $543,219
Wilmerhale Llp $542,618
Skadden, Arps et al $530,839
IBM Corp $528,822
Columbia University $528,302
Morgan Stanley $514,881
General Electric $499,130
US Government $494,820
Latham & Watkins $493,835

Posted by: Tim at April 20, 2010 6:54 PM

...and keeping with the "you're pointing the finger at the wrong people" thread this ones for you rhody.


Posted by: Tim at April 20, 2010 6:59 PM

I like Ed's work, even though he consistently disparages public sector unions. I think he truly believes what he writes, and all the evidence in the world won't change his mind. RI voters are not the enemy, rather it is RI's non voters that should feel shame when they look in the mirror, for those are the ones who allow the powerful in this state to hold that power, year after year.

I may be mistaken, but am pretty sure I am not that if we turned the GA upside down and started fresh the public sector union pay and benefit packages would not change all that much. Pensions would have to be modified due to past sins by the GA and Governors, Health Care co-pays would increase, but not to the point of saving the state from financial collapse.

Much more needs to be done than "fixing the unions."

I did find it amusing Ed's contempt for the intelligence of his readers by not blaming the union leadership and their members then directly accusing them of exploiting the system. I'm not quite sure if he was being clever or actually believes we are so gullible to fall for such a trick.

Posted by: michael at April 20, 2010 7:07 PM

I don't like Achorn.He's holier than thou and his wife had some role apparently regarding the mishandling of the Feinstein scholarship money at the Educational Alliance(or something like that)which has never been explained,and Achorn neglected to mention his wife's situation.He's one of those armchair moralists who I like about as much as I do leftists.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 20, 2010 8:57 PM

I frankly doubt Mr. Achorn's sincerity, but for all of that, his article only repeats the old saw that "A democracy gets the government it deserves".

I don;t mean to excuse the voters, but the Projo is a poor excuse for a newspaper. They lionized Cianci up to the day the FBI arrived. If they didn't know more than the Feebs, they are a poor excuse for a newspaper.

The smallness is a factor, every one knows someone who can but in the "fix". Businessmen do not really mind paying off, as long as the pols stay bought. They are buying certainty, sort of like insurance.

Many of my better off relatives are retiring and moving to Florida and the Carolinas. It doesn't trouble them that they are leaving RI, that is what Rhode Islanders do.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 20, 2010 10:50 PM

I was going to make a cheap joke in response to how Joe fills a condom...nah. In the spirit of respect to my elders, I'm not gonna go there.

Posted by: rhody at April 21, 2010 4:08 PM

Still waiting for "Eddy" Achorn to disclose and explain his knowledge and involvement in his wife's serious fraud at the former Education Partnership (and from which he benefited personally as her spouse). Unless we continue to demand an explanation from Achorn, and the Providence Journal, he'll argue that we deserve to be stuck with the same old corrupt journalists (and newspaper) that we have now.

Posted by: Bill at April 21, 2010 4:33 PM

I agree with Bill and Joe about Achorn. The fact that the editorial board at the Journal gave Education Partnership executive director Valerie Forte a forum with prominently placed rants against the NEA and the AFT on the editorial page while he was the deputy editor without revealing their association is bad enough.( Ed Achorn and Valerie Forte are married) But after Forte seriously mismanaged funds that were there for scholarships the Journal' E board remained quiet. The issue was forced by the reporters at the Journal when they wrote their stories about the closing of the Education Partnership offices. Achorn has not written one word about this matter but continues to scold ordinary Rhode Islanders in his jihad against unionized public employees.

Posted by: Phil at April 21, 2010 5:34 PM

Rhody-I don't need Viagra-do you?
Let's just say I don't fill it with yogurt.
Okay-I better quit right now-this is a family values site.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 21, 2010 8:21 PM
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