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October 25, 2012

Steve Kass' New Radio Gig

Monique Chartier

Monday afternoon will find Rhode Island radio legend Steve Kass once again in front of a microphone - this time, at WSAR.

New England Talk Pro Steve Kass to PM Drive on WSAR, Fall River, Massachusetts. Veteran talk radio host Steve Kass begins new duties as host of the PM drive show on SNE Broadcasting’s WSAR, Fall River, Massachusetts on October 29. The move reunited Kass with programmer Paul Giammarco who serves as general manager at WSAR. Kass and Giammarco worked together at Cumulus Media’s WPRO, Providence. Kass also worked at Clear Channel’s WHJJ, Providence. He states, “Coming back to WSAR is like returning home after being away for 32 years. WSAR provided me with my first opportunity to be a radio talk show host. What a year to start a new adventure in talk radio: Prop 2 ½, the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, Governor Reagan, John Anderson, and State Rep. Andy Card, are but a few of the events and guests that occurred in 1979. I have no doubt 2012 and beyond will be even more stimulating as we face so many challenges going forward. Best of all being reunited with Barry Richard and Paul Giammarco, two certified broadcasting pro’s provide the icing on the cake. Let the games begin.”

July 19, 2012

Credit for Building, Blame for Dividing

Justin Katz

President Obama's teleprompter style has been the subject of substantial (often mocking) critical commentary, and with some justification, as this nearly parodic 2010 video from a Virginia classroom proves:

Given recent political events, one can sympathize with the desire of public officials to avoid extemporaneous speech. In a world in which one's every public utterance can be recorded, scrutinized, and exploited, one can't rely on an audience's capacity to get your drift and give you the benefit of the doubt. And it's all to easy to blurt out a sentence such as the now infamous, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that."

Predictably, in the realm of commentary, the debate has moved to the meta matter of whether commentators are deliberately misconstruing the President's meaning. On Slate, Dave Weigel charitably infers "a missing sentence or clause" that Obama neglected to utter because he was "rambling." On Reason, Tim Cavanaugh rejoins that "at some point it helps to look at that thing above the subtext, which is generally known as 'the text.'"

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 8, 2012

How Private is Your Property?

Marc Comtois

If your lucky, you don't have to deal with "that house" in your neighborhood. You know, the one with the two or three beat up cars in the driveway (or on the lawn) and the hayfield instead of a lawn. It doesn't look good and brings the appearance of the rest of the neighborhood down. But is it a "conservative" thing to do to force someone to clean up their yard? The discussion is being had in today's Warwick Beacon:

“Frequent flyers,” is the name Annamarie Marchetti bestows on a small group of residents whose names resurface time and again for infractions of the “property maintenance code,” previously known as “minimum housing.”

The habitual offenders, Marchetti believes, don’t do what they do deliberately, said the clerk of property maintenance. She thinks they really don’t understand why their neighbors should be upset with the piles of junk and unregistered cars in their yard. After all, it’s their stuff – andtheir yard.

Debris and unregistered vehicles are two of the three most frequent infractions, says Ted Sarno, director and building official. The third most common relates to “protective coating” which could be peeling paint or siding coming off a house. In the summer, the fourth and fifth sources of complaint are overgrown lawns and standing water that is a source for mosquitoes. With so many foreclosures, Sarno said complaints over uncut lawns have been on the rise.

When negligence towards your private property affects the value of mine, is it any of my concern? Philosophical arguments based on conservative or libertarian principles can be made from both sides.

And there are some pretty obvious extensions, right? For instance, to conflate two, drug legalization and health care: some may say what they put into their body is their own business and also that they pay-as-they-go for health care instead of pay for insurance---until we end up paying for their visit to the Emergency Room and rehab care because they OD'd and didn't have health insurance. So where are the boundaries? Are they all slippery slopes? Part of what makes political discourse interesting is where we all choose to draw our own lines in the sand on issues like this. Where do you draw them?

February 18, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

A couple things about this story where the Institute for International Sport can't account for a few hundred thousand dollars that it got from the state in the form of a legislative grant. When Kathy Gregg is calling, chances are that it isn't going to end well for you. Second, if this money was given to them in 2007 for the purpose of erecting a building, why did it take until 2012 for the issues to be discovered? Who was checking on the status of the deal since then? Is the state only paying attention now because of the current fiscal crisis? The Assembly needs to be equally protective of taxpayer money regardless of the financial times.

One of the issues in Providence is that so far, the city hasn't been able to match all the savings and income with what was budgeted. Why was the city allowed to pass a budget on such intangible things like moving the retirees over to Medicare and banking on $7M in additional income from the tax-exempts? This sounds like a little bit of irresponsibility on the side of the budget makers.

I wish Tim Wakefield a happy retirement. He seems like a nice enough guy, but how would I know? Why is it that when professional athletes or celebrities are maligned in the press, we hear, "You don't know the real me" but then when they're praised, the subject of the praise accepts it all?

Continue reading "A Week of Thoughts"

February 5, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

This week, Governor Chafee proposed a 1-2 point increase on the tax paid at restaurants. He said this increase will go to help the schools in the state. Really? Wasn't the purpose of bringing a lottery to the state to help the schools? Wasn't the gas tax supposed to be for the roads and bridges? This "earmarking" does not exist. It all goes into the state's general fund and then the Assembly decides how much to give to each department. Don't fall for the "it'll go to the schools" argument again.

This week, Anthony Gemma jumped into the fray of helping to better inform the voters of Providence and Rhode Island about what role the former mayor and current Congressman played in the city's financial demise. Gemma claimed that he will hold Cicilline accountable. My question is "are you in or are you out?"

This week's Valley Breeze contained an article about the RI Tobacco Control Network who gave RI a grade of an F for "adequately funding proven tobacco prevention and cessation programs." The state isn't properly funding campaigns to discourage people from smoking. Wouldn't it be nice if RI had like a billion dollars for anti-smoking campaigns that didn't cost the taxpayers anything? Oh wait, that's right, we did. We used it to plug holes in the budget and pay things like pensions.

It's too late to make a prediction on the Super Bowl, so how about a prediction on the next mayor of Central Falls, if and when things get cleaned up there. I'll put my money on city councilman James Diossa.

This week, the FBI and Scotland Yard put together a conference call to discuss future strategy and leads they had on the Anonymous hackers group. The only problem is that members of Anonymous were also on the call. Whoops. Some high tech hack to break into the phone system? No. One of the officers forwarded the call information to his personal email box. Systems like gmail or hotmail can be less secure than government or other corporate mail systems. Plus, don't choose dumb and easy passwords. Things like adding a number or using a $ instead of an S isn't any more secure.

Do you ever go out with friends and see them checking their phone for messages through dinner? Here's a game I saw suggested. Upon arrival, everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table, face down, stacked on top of each other. If someone checks their phone, they buy dinner. Sometimes it's just good to unplug.

Every election year, Rhode Island has millions of dollars on the ballot in spending questions. This year, Governor Chafee wants to put $201 million in spending questions up for vote. Every time, there is some group out there to advocate for each of the questions. Someone to tell us why we should be spending that money. What we really need is a group to explain the other side of the spending questions. For starters, when you vote in favor of those questions, you are increasing your tax bill. You are agreeing to pay more money for those things. They are not free. It always amazes me how easily these questions pass yet people complain about the taxes in this state. You're doing it to yourself, people. If you want to do at least something to keep your taxes in check, don't vote for these things.

Curt Schilling's 38 Studios' game, "Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur" will finally be released this week. The reviews are coming in good and it even appears that the game will be profitable, which would virtually eliminate all risk to Rhode Island from the $75 million in loan guarantees that the firm received.

Also in the Valley Breeze this week, publisher Tom Ward wrote about the abundance of out of state license plates in Rhode Island, possibly an attempt to avoid the car tax. There seems to be another part to this that I often notice and that is dealer's plates. Aren't dealer plates for test driving cars? Why do I see a woman at the local Stop & Shop loading up her car with groceries and her car adorned with dealer plates? I'm not talking about temporary plates, those are the cardboard things we see. I've seen other cars in similar situations around the state that don't look anything like a test drive. Maybe it's all legal and there are other purposes for the dealer plates. Maybe a loaner while their car is in the shop?

Are you really still surfing the internet with Internet Explorer 6? Really? Stop. Even Microsoft proclaimed that browser to be dead. You're begging for people to take over your computer and so many web sites look horrible with it. C'mon, upgrade. Here, I'll help you: Latest Internet Explorer or even better FireFox or even my current favorite, Chrome.

Did you see this week where even the town council in Coventry had no idea that they were running a pension system? They thought they had a defined contribution plan where the town's commitments end upon the employee's retirement. If you're elected to the town council, shouldn't you really be digging in a lot deeper to how things work? Even the town council president said "I knew nothing about this fund until last week." Why? Shouldn't the town council president know where every dollar is coming from and where it's going?

Lastly, we had two seemingly unrelated stories on back to back days on the front cover of the Providence Journal. On one day, we saw that the Governor and the General Assembly wants to give its employees a 4.6% pay increase for this year and a 16.5% increase next year. All this on top of things like longevity bonuses and other merit pay. The front page story the next day was

National report finds many in Rhode Island living on the edge
Twenty percent of households lack assets to cover three months of expenses if they lose a job or face an emergency
Well, maybe they can just get a job at the State House.

Congratulations New York Giants fans. Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

January 28, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

Oh, what to lead off with?

This week, Bishop Tobin agreed to open a daytime homeless shelter in South Providence, as a condition of the Providence Occupiers leaving Burnside Park. So how do they thank the clergy? A day later, they crash a Right to Life rally at the State House and shout down a Catholic priest from making a final prayer blessing. I'm not sure if that's the Occupiers' way of saying "thank you" or another phrase that ends with "you".

I wasn't living in Rhode Island during his tenure, but Governor Garrahy sounds like he was a good guy. God bless.

The A&E TV network wants to pay the city of Providence to film its Parking Wars TV show in the capital city. How does the City Council react to the idea of free money? The show “makes the city look stupid,” Well, to quote a former local football coach, "You are what you are."

Even if I never agree with a single thing he says, I will admit that State Rep. Scott Guthrie has an outstanding moustache.

State Rep Charlene Lima wants to overturn the state voter ID law, just a year after it was passed, calling it "Jim Crow." When are we going to get beyond such racism? When can we get past the silly rhetoric? It would seem the point she's trying to make is one of economics, not skin color. So why is she bringing skin color into it? Are all Rhode Island African-Americans poor? Are there no poor Caucasian or Latinos or Asian-Americans in Rhode Island? Let's move away from the race issues and simply talk about what we mean. It really cheapens the discussion.

According to WPRI.com, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said the city is supposed to have an actuarial study done on its pension system every five years. The last one was due in 2009. None has been done since then. He's doing one now. First, let's look at the silliness in today's market of doing one every five years. A lot changes in that amount of time. Second, can I just ask who was the mayor of Providence in 2009? Oh that's right. The man who left the city in a strong economic condition, David Cicilline.

With all the flap this week about Mitt Romney's effective tax rate in the 14 percent range, it's funny that no one really took notice of it a few years ago when John Kerry's effective tax rate was 13 percent. The same year that George Bush paid 28 percent and Dick Cheney paid 20 percent. It's great to see that this argument works for the Democrats when the numbers are in their favor.

I was happy to read today that Dwarf Tossing may become legal again in Florida. Who knew that the little people getting thrown could make six-figure salaries?

President Obama said that he might restrict federal funds from colleges and universities that don't stop increasing their tuition every year. Hmm. I got a deal for you Mr. President. I'm going to restrict my tax dollars to you if you don't stop increasing the size of the federal government every year. Deal?

Speaking of budgeting and taxes, there's a bill at the State House again this year by Rep. Daniel Reilly that would require zero-based budgeting for the state. He would phase it in over five years, starting with the smaller departments. Doesn't that seem to make sense? Rather than assuming everything you paid for last year is necessary next year, you have to actually justify the tax dollars you're spending. If they're necessary, it should be easy, right? Unfortunately, I think it got "held for further study" even before he submitted it.

Surprisingly, Speaker Fox offered a flat "No." when asked on Newsmakers last week about taxing high income earners in the state. How's that sitting with his progressive supporters?

Ding, dong, SOPA's dead...but so is Megaupload. So what's the point of SOPA again?

I find it interesting that Buddy Cianci is the one who gave Providence retirees their 6% COLAs, yet he uses his soap box to rail against the damage Cicilline did to the city. Why does it seem that Buddy gets a pass on the Providence mess?

On Friday, Justin was questioning whether the state's pension system is capable of reaching its expected 7.5% return rate. Providence claims it can do even better. It was the only municipality to not send a representative to a conference on local pension systems this week and Ted Nesi reported: "The city has defended that 8.5% target, saying it will be able to earn more than the state." Anyone want to take bets on that happening?

Scott McKay announced this week that on Feb. 23, Vice President Joe Biden will come to Rhode Island for a Sheldon Whitehouse fundraiser. I wonder if Biden will announce to the audience that the Yankees will win the World Series.

Nesi had an interview with State Treasurer Gina Raimondo about whether she'll run for a higher office in two years. It's good to see that she's trying to get back to her stated Democratic roots by blaming Republicans for being anti-government. She already alienated the left, so why not go for the right, too?

January 17, 2012

The Cranston West Banner Can't be Required to Just Disappear

Carroll Andrew Morse

If the Cranston West banner has to be destroyed or removed, or if certain words have to be redacted from it, to comply with Judge Ronald Lagueux's Federal Court decision, there is no reason why a Soviet-style disappearance from history without explanation must occur, or that the public should not be informed that they are looking at a version 2 of the banner or at the space where the banner used to be.

If the minimum-modification option is pursued, various utilizations of the space on top or to the side of the banner are possible for displaying an explanation that would respect the history and original message of the banner, without violating any Supreme Court "endorsement of religion" tests.

Here's one proposal...

In 1963, David Bradley and the Cranston West community chose the imperative mood, to express a message they believed would help people live and grow together.

In 2012, Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled that the state forbids mentioning to whom or to what the requests are addressed.

Judge Lagueux's ruling should not prevent anyone's lifelong consideration of all of the reasons why we aspire to be better on our next day than on our last,

nor imply that the state can decide the answer to this question for us.

*** ******** *******
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston
High School West.

In the meantime, a note should be added to the tarp covering the present banner saying "The Federal Government forbids you from seeing what is behind this covering".

January 14, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

Sometimes during the week, I see or read various things that I think about posting, but I can't imagine more than a sentence or two about it, so I drop it. Finally I figured, why not save them up and put them all together once a week. I think Marc did this a few weeks ago too.

East Providence is getting an advance on their allowance by receiving their April school funding money now. If that money normally lasts from April until the June tax receipts start coming in, then what happens in about three months when this money runs out? I asked that to the twitterverse and Ian Donnis responded that the EP budget commission hopes to have it all sorted out by then. I guess "hope" is the state motto.

Anyone else on board with a prediction that there's no way any vote on municipal pension reform happens until after the November election, at the earliest? Why piss off the unions twice before an election? Try the Chafee strategy, tell them one thing and do another.

Warwick's Mayor Scott Avedisian wants to check in with Gov. Chafee before deciding whether to run for Lieutenant Governor? Really? I can understand wanting to first see if it'd be another Carcieri-Roberts situation, but it's not like he needs to work his way up the ladder. He already has the name recognition for the "next" office. Plus, isn't LG a step down in terms of responsibility for the mayor of the city's second biggest city?

Why do people say things like "controlling your destiny"? Check the definition of destiny. There's nothing anyone can do to change it or affect it.

Great job by the students in Cranston to turn Jessica Ahlquist into the sympathetic figure. Threats of violence should never be the response here. I do wonder that if hanging a prayer banner in a public school is unconstitutional then has the precedent been set for a Supreme Court fight to remove "In God We Trust" from our money? Or maybe the precedent has already been set for a successful appeal by Cranston?

My daughter's latest interest is American Girl. Isn't it ironic that all American Girl products are made in China?

Senator Beth Moura will be on the Dan Yorke Show, Monday at 1 to discuss her allegations against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I saw yesterday that Governor Chafee made his appointments to the municipal pension board: the president of the local firefighters union, the vice president of Council 94 and a police officer. Three union members. However, Chafee simply appointed exactly as he was required to by last year's pension reform law that required he appoint representatives of fire, police and public employees. Interesting though that it was written into the law that way. "Don't forget about us!"

Brown University offers its employees a defined contribution plan. The city of Providence offers its employees a very generous pension plan. The pension plan is a mess, so what does Providence do? Go after Brown for more money. It reminds be a bit about the Ant and the Grasshopper.

Go Patriots.

December 23, 2011

Taking the Edge Off the Hardball

Justin Katz

It occurred to us, this last weekday before Christmas, that given all the reaction to the public-sector unions' decision to treat the Crossroads homeless shelter as a hostile enterprise based on its support for pension reform, it would be a good idea to direct you to the charity's donation page.

SEIU Local 580 President Phillip Keefe's statement that the Crossroads can rightfully be punished for "playing hard ball" is little more than an explicit statement of a strategy that everybody suspects underlies the union mentality. With us or against us. Push back on us and face our organizational wrath — which, ultimately, is the core attraction of forming a bargaining unit. (It's just too bad that, for public sector unions, all of society is a potential "management" target.)

It would certainly ease future reforms in Rhode Island and across the nation if the charity didn't end up suffering for its decision... and especially if it ended up profiting from it. Here's the link, again.

May 28, 2011

Changing Cranston as a Way to Save Providence?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't know if GoLocal Providence's Dan McGowan is tied into some developing behind-the-scenes chatter, or if he is simply trying to think outside-of-the-box, but he offered a regionalization concept in this week's Side of the Rhode column that has not yet been offered elsewhere in public with the potential immediacy of his other examples...

Get ready for more regionalization talk as cities and towns continue to struggle financially. Central Falls and Pawtucket are an obvious pairing, but how about Aquidneck Island, or maybe Providence and Cranston. If everything is on the table, this has to be an option.
This example is a useful one, because it helps make the proposed benefits of regionalization clear: Providence city-hall would get to take money collected from the property taxes paid by Cranston residents, and use it to defray its out-of-control costs brought on by years of Providence mismanagement, while the impact on the services side in what is now Providence would be significantly less, as positions that are now part of Cranston could be cut from municipal government, so that Providence positions could be spared. Cranston residents, in return, would get the satisfaction of knowing the high taxes and service cuts they were experiencing were helping to payoff problems created by Providence politicians.

I don't support radical regionalization in any form, but if I did, I would ask why Cranston/Providence makes any more sense than Cranston/Warwick or Cranston/Johnston or Cranston/Scituate. The question basically answers itself; regionalization supporters aren't thinking about long-term benefits of regionalization in any serious manner, they are desperately searching for ways to give Rhode Island's chronically mismanaged communities an opportunity to grab large sums of money and resources from their better-managed neighbors.

I think the real message of this is that Cranston needs to think about seceding to Kent County, in case one of these pile-driver county-based regionalization plans actually does get passed by the legislature in the near-future.

February 14, 2011

Bob Watson's Alliterative Allegory About Potential Poor Priorities at the People's ... er, Palace

Monique Chartier

(... shoot, couldn't think of a better word for capitol starting with "P".)

George's comment yesterday under Marc's post

um, excuse me....


B R O K E !

reminds me (how could I have forgotten?!) of the remarks that Minority Leader Robert Watson (R) made last week in front of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce with regard to issue focus at the General Assembly this session. [Audio courtesy WPRO; the brouhaha broke on the Matt Allen Show.]

This year shouldn't be about immigration and I know it will be. It shouldn't be about gay marriage and I know it will be.

I suppose if you're a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot, you probably think that we're onto some good ideas here.

Some members of the Guatemalan community have asked for an apology, saying that the remarks were offensive. President of the Immigrants in Action Committee Providence, Juan Garcia, is considering picketing Watson at his home or at the State House.

This ProJo article alludes to an upcoming news conference on the matter to be attended also by members of Guatemalan organizations from other states.

Watson has declined to apologize but did reiterate that his remarks pertained only to some of the (in his view) misguided issues that the G.A. will be taking up.

The truth of this is, we are preoccupied with a number of issues, primarily social issues, at a time when financially, we are burning to the ground.

My initial reaction was, why is Juan Garcia criticizing someone who agrees with him on illegal immigration? Garcia doesn't want it brought up by the G.A. and it appears neither does Watson! The thought that occurred to me a couple of days later is that, while I am genuinely regretful if someone's feelings are hurt, we are doing pretty darn good as a community if these mild remarks are deemed offensive. But possibly others wish to express a different reaction.

August 17, 2010

Ground Zero, the Mosque, and the Sacred

Carroll Andrew Morse

Robert Nisbet, the noted American sociologist from the last century, identified a set of sociological ideas that couldn’t directly be derived from the other social sciences and therefore defined sociology as a distinct discipline. One such idea was that of "the sacred". As is true of most basic sociological concepts (as identified by Nisbet and others before and after) creating a concise, ironclad definition of the sacred not easy. But dismissing the sacred because it is hard to define will lead to serious misunderstandings about how humans and their societies interact, usually while irritating (or worse) a whole bunch of people in the process.

Charles Krauthammer did a very good job of establishing a sense of the sacred in his recent op-ed the Cordoba Initiative mosque planned for Ground Zero in New York City...

A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (Lourdes, the Temple Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice (Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable suffering of the innocent (Auschwitz).

When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there -- and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized, or misappropriated.

The key point is that it is important to recognize Ground Zero as someplace sacred, and not just something historical, because the rules for interacting with the sacred are not the same for interacting with the secular, and because both natures are presently involved in the contentions over the Cordoba Initiative mosque.

For that which is secular, people and organizations can apply wholly rational ideas, e.g. fairness, efficiency, process-based decisioning etc., to resolve discordant pressures for change. But where the sacred is involved, attitudes are fundamentally different. There is an inclination against subjecting what is held sacred to outside pressures -- especially when those pressures originate with non-sacred sources. This doesn’t mean that the sacred brooks no change at all, but that the mechanisms for change must make sense to the sacred on its own terms.

Many advocates for the Ground Zero Mosque are ignoring this dynamic. As a result, they are presenting arguments for building the mosque in ways that are deeply unsatisfying, even to those who may not view the Mosque as an intentional affront. Whether they realize it or not, arguing that the "right to build" defines the extent of the issue is to argue that Ground Zero has no more meaning than a flood plain, or a building code, or other such secular things that are considered when deciding to build any run-of-the-mill physical structure. Even worse, supposedly content-neutral process-oriented arguments about the right-to-build are being used to reach a conclusion that elevates one manifestation of the sacred (the Cordoba Initiative mosque) a little bit over another (Ground Zero).

Using secular process to prioritize the sacred is rarely a wise course of action, and taking one instance of the sacred and intertwining it with some secular rules to over-run another instance of the sacred is an exceedingly poor start for a mission of peaceful outreach -- especially when the idea of the sacred being devalued is one that is held by the people you are trying to reach. It is certainly not a strategy guaranteed to win more converts than it alienates, and it will awaken the possibility in some minds that fundamentally incompatible ideas about what is sacred may be clashing.

Laying out the problem in this way suggests two possible constructive ways forward. One way is to reduce as much as possible the secular arbitration of the final outcome, to remove secular forces from the position they should not be in of choosing which version of the sacred should trump another. Both mosque proponents and opponents need to say that, regardless of what the law allows, they are going to sit down together and find the common ground. This would cut both ways, e.g. denying the right to build a mosque on some lame preservation grounds would be as bad as insisting that the legal right to build a mosque ends any necessary discussion. I am not suggesting that this would lead to a quick resolution.

The other way forward would be to show people that the practices and principles that favor support of the building a mosque at Ground Zero are themselves manifestations of something sacred. Is that too much of a stretch? It may very well be -- if all that is left of freedom of religion in America is a belief that every religious organization must follow identical procedures when interacting with the surrounding society. If, on the other hand, American-style freedom of religion means something more, something intended to enhance a set of sacred-in-their-own-right practices about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and meant to allow people living here together to be able to get closer to some common conceptions that we all can accept as sacred, then there might be some room for productive discussion in this vein.

Either way, it seems that if the Cordoba Initiative is sincere, the immediate goal shouldn't be building a mosque at Ground Zero, but instead building an environment, where building their mosque near Ground Zero isn’t controversial, through interacting and respecting what the society around them holds sacred. The wonderful thing about the sacred is that advancing it and building it up doesn’t have to depend on building a physical structure.

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March 31, 2010

Hang Tough, Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

As Congressman Kennedy famously said, "WATER...."

I've been lucky enough to still be able to work during the day and save the sloshing and pumping for the evening hours. Our property abuts a little babbling brook that turned into a quick-flowing stream over the last few days and the water went 4-5 ft. higher than usual, closer to the house than ever before. Our almost-always wet basement (it's an old house) is equipped with a sump pump and everything of import stored down there is in bins. Luckily, we haven't had any standing water inside.

But the biggest cause of concern was with our back and side yards, which often serve as a catch-basin for rainwater rolling down the slight slope from road to brook. Our basement sump pump outputs to a dry-well that is submerged by the "new" pond in the side yard. Thus, I hooked up my old pool pump and commenced de-watering operations, which continue off and on as needed. We are holding our own and are thankful that we live along the banks of a little brook and not the Patuxet river.

Our state is going through a time right now. We're aggravated by slow moving government--because it can never move fast enough--but that's what happens when the real object of our anger and frustration--Mother nature--is a nebulous force that won't listen to us anyway. There will be time to learn from and revisit the revelatory lessons of this disaster. Until then, hang tough.

January 5, 2010

Narcisse an Example for Us All

Marc Comtois

Today, Bill Reynolds writes about Floyd Narcisse, the much-beloved Central High basketball coach who recently passed away from cancer:

I first met him at a summer league game in North Providence in the late 1980s. He had moved here from Springfield, Mass., transferred then by AT&T. From the beginning he brought an energy, a love of kids, and a big heart.

In those early years he used to host his own AAU tournaments, bringing in teams from New England and New York, then getting on my case when we here at The Journal either didn’t cover them, or did so sparingly. He always was an advocate for inner-city kids back then, something that often must have felt like always pushing a large rock up a long hill.

What I didn’t know then was how active he was in the community, whether it was in the Allen A.M.E. Church in the West End, or the John Hope Settlement House. It soon became apparent, though, that Narcisse was one of those people who never was going to stop pushing that rock, an activist in the best sense of the word.

The first column I did on him was in 1993, when we sat in a McDonald’s in Seekonk. He had been doing his AAU tournaments around here for six years then, and if he was frustrated by the lack of coverage, it never seemed to stop him.

I asked him why.

“We as black men — for the most part — don’t give back to the community,” he said. “I wanted to do that. I think we have to do that. And don’t tell me you don’t have enough time. I have a family. I have two children. You have to find the time.”

"You have to find the time." That's so true. Whether its on the field or court, or at your school or church or community, we need more people to give of their time, especially to our kids. The basketball court was Narcisse's "in", but...:
“It’s not about basketball,” he said one night before a game at La Salle. “It’s about teaching these kids to become people. Why is this important? Because this is an inner-city school and these kids face those stereotypes every day. You know the ones. That these kids are hoodlums. That they disrespect people, scare people. These are the stereotypes these kids face every day, the stereotypes all inner-city kids face every day.

“Our job is to teach these kids the real facts of life,” he went on. “Not to sugarcoat things. Because when they go out in the real world it matters how people perceive you. It matters how you dress, how you act, how you deal with people.”

These lessons need to be taught and reinforced every day. Not just to the inner-city kids, but to the suburbanites and the rural farm kids, too. It's a big world and we are all judged, every day. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. Floyd Narcisse taught young men these lessons and many more. He changed lives. All because he was able "to find the time" for kids who couldn't get the time of day from so many other adults. Floyd Narcisse was a true man and an inspiration. May he rest in peace.

September 18, 2009

Re: Conserving Civilization - The Coliseum

Marc Comtois

Like Justin, I read Michael Knox Beran's piece about the loss of the marketplace (the agora) with interest. Beran contrasted the emptying agora (the town square or marketplace) with the filling up of castles both old and new built. Beran points to an upper class culture striven for by the modern day aristocrats (czars and the like) and the wannabe's (academia and the professional class) who look to migrate to wealthy burbs and McMansions while leaving behind the village or town squares.

A rapid growth in population and a vast expansion of commerce overwhelmed the old centers. At the same time the rise of the nationstate and its metropolitan elites made the provincial agoras seem, well, provincial. The provinces, Tocqueville wrote, "had come under the thrall of the metropolis, which attracted to itself all that was most vital in the nation." The traditional patrons of agora culture, the merchant princes who were once proud of their market squares, abandoned them to ape the gentry. The man of business found it infra dig to live near his shop; he built himself a mansion in a fashionable aristocratic district. New technology further diminished the appeal of the old forums as people turned to radio, cinema, and television for amusement.

Even so, the civic focal point might have survived if people had cared about it. But the rationale was forgotten. During the last few centuries the traditional artistry of the marketplace has come to seem merely quaint and even irrational. Modern planners who studied the old market squares failed to see, beneath a surface of heterogeneous activity, the unity of a civic whole.

As Justin highlighted, Beran has some ideas--some hope--that conservatives can build back up our traditional culture--western civ and the like--by independently funding cultural arts and bringing them back to the modern day agora. We can try, but while the agoras may have emptied, the denizen's of both village and castle continue to go to the coliseum.

The ancient coliseum's were built for spectacles that could entertain the masses. Often playing to the lowest common denominator, the entertainment kept the rabble happy and, hopefully, made them forget their lot in life. While today's sport culture in America serves the same purpose (I'm a proud member of the rabble, by the way), if less violently (well, except maybe with MMA), there is also more going on than "here we are now, entertain us" or the simple sating of the basic human need to belong to something bigger, like The Team.

If you've ever tailgated at a professional or college football game, you know that the conversation is quite broader than simply going over the impending game. While the purpose of the coliseum and the games played within may be the same as ever--people go to games to forget about life's problems for a while--they also collect people together to socialize and gossip and talk about their lives and the world. This temporary community is an offshoot of a shared sense of team, but it lingers past the day's game and is not confined to time spent in the coliseum. It expands into lives outside of the coliseum and encompass the apparently peripheral. The recent retirement speech made by Detroit Tigers' broadcaster Ernie Harwell provides a glimpse into a common ethos and respect for tradition that is fostered in the bleachers.

It's a wonderful night for me. I really feel lucky to be here, and I want to thank you for that warm welcome. I want to express my deep appreciation to Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers for that video salute and also for the many great things they've done for me and my family throughout my career here with the Tigers.

In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey, and the blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all, no question about that.

And I certainly want to thank you from the depth of my heart for your devotion, your support, your loyalty and your love. Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Fans of the Tigers were emotionally attached to Harwell. His voice recalled times of youth and tradition and auld lang syne. There was a bond between the Tigers and their fandom, what some would call the "Tiger Community." Such nostalgia is a valuable aspect of tradition. It reminds us of how things were, the good times and, perhaps, provides a gateway into deeper reflection of why the "good old days" were.

This can also be scaled down from the coliseum to the local sports field. In many ways, while mimicing the games played in the coliseum, youth sports bring us much closer to the agora . Parents and volunteers must get together, navigate egos and differing opinions and run the operation so that kids can learn life lessons that competition can provide. Along the way, tasks are completed, obstacles overcome and the shared sense of community is deepened. The sport may be what brings people together, but it serves as an entry point into all manner of topics that are discussed at meetings and at the fields. In fact, often times, the game on the field is really only background noise to the talk on the sidelines!

Most importantly, sports gather together people from all walks of life, from everywhere on the social and economic ladder. But youth or higher-level sports aren't the only vehicle for the establishment of civic spirit. There are all sorts of activities that help build community in the same way, from the Boy Scouts to the Buckeye Brook Coalition. They just aren't all centralized in the same physical marketplace idealized by Beran.

Yet, the function or spirit that comes out of the coliseum isn't the same as that of the agora. It's certain that the coliseum of today--that American sports culture--doesn't exactly approach the artistic culture for which Beran pines (does "Let's Get it Started" qualify as high art?). The physical spaces of today's sports culture simply can't accomodate--or probably won't welcome--Beran's agora ideal. We aren't going to be seeing half-time concertos or the 6th Inning Operatic Moment any time soon. Maybe it isn't the kind of civilization Beran would like to conserve. But don't let the face paint and team jersey's fool you. Right now, many of the people for whom Beran is looking are in stadiums and on playing fields, cheering on their teams and talking about everything under the sun.

September 6, 2009

Govern or Be Governed

Justin Katz

Returning home from the Johnston, a couple of weeks ago, I floated along in the fast lane of 195, my mind flitting through political thoughts, and it took me a moment to register the fact that traffic in both of the other lanes had come to a crawl. A sign explained the reason: "Left two lanes closed ahead." Per highway etiquette, I pulled into the first opening available. Let's just say that my action was unique among those in the lane that was actually moving.

After a dozen or so cars flew by, I pulled my work van back into the fast lane but kept pace with the slow-moving space that I had just occupied. The two truckers between whom that space had been saw what I was doing, and the one behind maintained my opening while the one ahead modified his speed to that of slowest lane. The mile or so between us and the actual merge cleared like the upper cell of an hourglass, and the traffic began to move at a tolerable pace. As we approached the merge, the cars that I'd blocked alternated politely into traffic, and I like to think that the newly established pattern held at least for a little while.

It occurred to me that those whose advantage I'd squashed may have resented the presumption, but if we individual representatives of society step forward for small and large corrections, it is indeed possible to exist without government officials dictating and directing, waving flags to corral us into functional routines. Two news stories came to mind, the first out of Westport:

The homeowner... found the suspects in his house when he returned from running errands at about 3:50 p.m., police said. When the suspects ran out of the house, he chased after them. When two construction workers drove by, he flagged them down and they joined the chase, police spokesman Detective Jeff Majewski said.

One of the suspects, running with a pillowcase full of jewelry, handed the goods over to one of the construction workers and continued running, Majewski said. Officers, including the Dartmouth K-9 unit and Westport harbormaster, conducted a "massive search" in the area for a few hours before finding [Gerald] Thorpe, he said.

The mugshot of Mr. Thorpe that accompanies a Sakonnet Times editorial on the topic shows a man surprised and confused, cut and dirty, not yet suffering from the poison ivy through which he'd crawled. As the editors wrote:

Police don't normally recommend that citizens pursue bad guys (things might not have ended so happily had one of these men been armed). But in an age when people supposedly no longer get involved (fear of lawsuits and the like), the response this time was nice to see.

A thematically similar story from Seattle didn't end well for the indignant citizen, although not in the way one might expect:

A plucky teller foiled a robbery attempt at Key Bank in Seattle. But the story does not end happily. When a small man in a beanie cap, dark clothing, and sunglasses pushed a backpack across the counter and announced, "This is a ransom. Fill the bag with money," teller Jim Nicholson ignored his training and "instinct took over." He lunged across the counter and attempted to grab the thief by the throat, or at least to pull his glasses off. The nonplussed would-be robber bolted for the door with Nicholson on his heels. A couple of blocks away, with the help of others, Nicholson tackled the guy and held him until police arrived.

Two days later, Key Bank got in touch with Nicholson. A bonus, perhaps? A commendation? Not quite. He was fired. It seems he had violated the bank's strict policy that tellers should always comply with robber demands. A Key Bank spokesman has not returned a call asking for comment.

A private company can set its own policies, of course, but it's an insidious tendency of modern society to discourage folks from acting on their freedom to stand for principle, to take risks that establish social expectations and proclaim an unwillingness to be victimized.

August 14, 2009

Contrasting Portraits

Monique Chartier

... painted by Michael Morse over at Rescuing Providence.

When one of them, a twenty something shirtless tattooed tough guy refused to get out of the way I had to give him a “little” nudge. The time to show you are a man is not when your aunt is dying in front of you. If you want to be a tough guy, join the Marines, fight for your country, learn to speak English and take care of your family. And get the hell out of the way if you can’t.

* * *

An hour later I found myself in a different home, a Hispanic couple in their early sixties. ...

August 6, 2009

A Fireside Chat with Dan

Justin Katz

Alright, there wasn't really a fire, but since we're talking radio, I like to imagine that there was one. Dan Yorke and I had that sort of conversation, yesterday, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO. Those who missed it or who would like to revisit something (for kind or scurrilous reasons) can stream the whole segment (about an hour, without commercials) by clicking here, or listen to portions:

  • On Anchor Rising, my writing habits and schedule, and blogging specifics (traffic, money, etc.): stream, download (5 min, 49 sec)
  • On our blogging mission (or obsession) and the effect that AR and blogs in general are having: stream, download (3 min, 46 sec)
  • On profiting (or not) from online writing: stream, download (4 min, 03 sec)
  • A call from Mike and discussion of "excellence" in Rhode Island and the effects of local participation, with Tiverton Citizens for Change as an example: stream, download (12 min, 45 sec)
  • On Dan's opinion that RI reformers need a "big win" and my belief that we focus on smaller victories: stream, download (2 min, 52 sec)
  • On hopelessness and a magic wand policy change in Rhode Island (public sector union busting) and the problem of regionalization: stream, download (6 min, 48 sec)
  • On what to do about unions: stream, download (2 min, 18 sec)
  • On the coalition of problems in RI and whether all are addressable by the same principle (dispersing power and building from the community up, as well as a tangent about binding arbitration: stream, download (6 min, 2 sec)
  • On the Republican Party in Rhode Island and awareness of reform groups: stream, download (4 min, 7 sec)
  • On prescriptions for Rhode Island and the lack of leaders: stream, download (6 min, 34 sec)
  • A call from Robert and discussion of Republicans and the Tea Party as a political party: stream, download (3 min, 14 sec)
  • On the Moderate Party: stream, download (2 min, 9 sec)
  • A call from John and discussion of Steve Laffey's plan: stream, download (1 min, 42 sec)

May 8, 2009

The Fire Code Strikes Again

Justin Katz

And the squeeze on non-governmental services — most notably from the Roman Catholic diocese — pushes another one over the edge:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has told a state nursing home association that it is closing St. Francis House, its assisted-living center at 167 Blackstone St. later this year, a spokeswoman for the association said. ...

Mary K. Talbot, of the Rhode Island Association of Facilities and Services for the Aging, said the diocese told the association it would cost $250,000 to $500,000 to bring the center into compliance with the state fire code.

WPRI has more details:

It serves 46 low-income elderly residents who require assistance with normal daily activities, but do not qualify for nursing home care.

To achieve full compliance with fire code regulation in Rhode Island, the St. Francis House would need $500,000 in immediate upgrades to the sprinkler and fire alarm system.

In addition, officials say that low reimbursement rates for patient care at the facility has caused St. Francis House to incur monthly deficits of $10,000.

Yes, many of these suborganizations were struggling already, but that's nothing new to charitable groups, and $500,000 is more than four years worth of $10,000 monthly losses.

By the way:

St. Francis House employs 22 full- and part-time employees.

March 5, 2009

Taxing the Rich and Hurting the Poor

Marc Comtois

Apparently we are all well aware that the rich can afford to pay more taxes--"their fair share." But can the poor afford it?

The administration’s recently released budget will limit tax deductions on gifts made to charities by those earning over $250,000 a year, raising (we are told) almost $180 billion over the next ten years. It’s an extraordinary grab for money — money given to private charities by private citizens as private donations. These donations directly fund programs that (among other things) feed, clothe, and house the poor, deliver after-school programs to disadvantaged children, build new facilities for colleges and other schools, and generally enrich everyone’s lives through education and the arts.

The way this will work in practice goes like this: Assume someone in the top tax bracket wants to make a $1,000 donation to a local homeless shelter. Currently they would be eligible for a deduction at the top 35 percent rate, so the donation costs them only $650. This proposal would allow deductions at only the 28 percent rate, meaning the donation will now cost $720, an increase of over 11 percent. In other words, $70 that could have gone to the homeless shelter will now go to the government. In the aggregate, then, charities can expect to lose about 7 percent of their contributions from givers in the higher tax brackets. The new top tax rate of 39.6 percent in 2011 makes the math even more punitive, making the cost of donations 19 percent higher.

A study released Friday by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University shows that if the provision had been in place in 2006, charities would have lost almost $4 billion in donations in the intervening period. With the incomes of the so-called wealthy dropping, at the same time that their taxes are going up, it’s hard to see how limiting the deduction will not have a significant impact on charitable giving. The dollars taken away from private donations and directed into government coffers are not going to be magically replaced.

The study did find that overall giving doesn't dip as bad when the focus is broadened and that charitable giving rates track closely with the stock market:
The drop in giving is less stark when looked at in the context of how it would affect all Americans who itemize on their tax forms and claim charitable deductions. Total giving by people who itemize would have dropped just 2.1 percent if the Obama plan had been in effect in 2006, the center estimated. Itemized charitable contributions totaled nearly $187-billion that year.

But the center cautioned that giving is far more likely to be affected by the condition of the stock market than by President Obama’s tax proposals. It noted that every time the stock market declines by 100 points, giving declines by $1.85-billion. Charitable donations rise by that same amount when the stock market increases.

Remind me: how has the stock market performed in reaction to the Obama economic "plan"? Finally:
Patrick M. Rooney, interim director of the Indiana center, said he worried about the effect of the tax change at a time when the downturn in the economy has put a squeeze on many donors and the charities they support.

“Tax incentives do stimulate more giving,” Mr. Rooney said, “and the challenges facing the nonprofit sector in 2009 suggest that this might be a good time to provide additional incentives, rather than reduce the value of the tax deduction for high-income households, so that the donors with the greatest capacity to give have more reasons to do so.”

But there may be hope yet.

February 19, 2009


Marc Comtois

Nothing, in my opinion, is more deserving of our attention than the intellectual and moral associations of America...they are as necessary to the American people as [political and industrial associations], and perhaps more so. In democratic countries the science of association is the mother of science; the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made.
~ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

It's time for more Rhode Islanders to step up:

It turns out that Rhode Islanders don’t volunteer as much as its neighbors in Connecticut and Massachusetts or even the rest of the country.

In a Jan. 14 news conference given by the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island and the Serve Rhode Island group, it was announced that a Serve Rhode Island Volunteer Corps was being instituted. The above two groups would be merging in the hopes that together they could increase the amount of volunteerism that takes place in Rhode Island.

The Corporation for National and Community Service’s “Volunteering in the United States” provides a detailed yearly assessment of volunteering at all levels: state, country and city.

In the 2008 assessment, Rhode Island ranked 41st in the country as far as its overall rate of volunteerism.

“The average number of volunteer hours served per resident of 28.2 hours per year ranks even lower, at 46th among the 50 states in the U.S.,” the report states.

Despite its low ranking nationally, there were some bright spots for Rhode Island in the report. Volunteer rates for specific demographics in our state ranked higher in some areas.

“College students [volunteering] in Rhode Island rank fourth nationally. Young adults in Rhode Island ages 16-24 rank 24th, black Rhode Islanders rank 27th [and] Latino Rhode Islanders rank 30th,” reads the 2008 report.

Volunteerism by Rhode Island Seniors ages 67-74, however, trails behind most of the nation. Rhode Island ranks 47th out of the 50 states in that area.

In comparison, “Rhode Island’s overall volunteer rate of 24.9 percent trails well behind Connecticut (30.3 percent) and slightly behind Massachusetts (27 percent),” the report goes on to say.

The good news is good. Ocean State "youngsters" seem to have more of a volunteer spirit than our elders. Make of that what you will.

All solutions don't come from government programs, agencies or funding. If you're interested in volunteering--in putting your time, if not your money, where your ideals are--take some initiative and head on over to www.vcri.org.

November 26, 2008

What It Means to Care

Justin Katz

During an interesting conversation, last night, a long-time Tiverton resident suggested to me that members of Tiverton Citizens for Change "don't care about Tiverton." The storyline is that we're newcomers simply looking out for our own financial interests, as opposed to townies willing, I suppose, to put the town's needs before their own.

With a broad brush, I'd suggest that the dichotomy does not actually exist. Plenty of lifelong residents vote and advocate according to interests no less narrow than than those of even the most selfish reformer. For others, "what's good for the town" lines up suspiciously well with "what's good for me." And for still others, the interest is a sense of power and control over the town, which is hardly a selfless motivation.

But it is a question worth asking one's self: Do I care about my town?

To be honest, I moved to Tiverton mainly because I was priced off of Aquidneck Island. The islander mentality is real, with its sense that crossing a bridge is somehow different than going down a short stretch of road. In my years here, however, getting to know people, getting lost on the way to this or that, riding along over every road as a UPS driver's helper one Christmas season, I've come to appreciate that, to the extent that circumstances forced me away from where I wanted to be, they pushed me to a wonderful town.

It's a wonderful town with some problems, no doubt, in a wonderful state with its own problems, too, but it's easy and attractive to imagine one's life unfolding within it. Clearly, I've invested myself enough to actively try to improve it.

But is that "caring"? I don't know; if I'm priced out of my house, I'll be out of here. On the other side of hope, if we were to succeed in getting the town and the state back to sustainability, with an open government and prosperous society, I can't say that I'd be doing much by way of community activities.

To be sure, it's been so long since my stroll through life turned to trudging that I can't imagine what it must be like to have the time to volunteer for anything other than dire necessities. Somebody else, last night, recommended a particular stretch of forest that would reward hiking, and I could only mark it down as something to do when there's room in my 18-19-hour days for activities resembling relaxation. If I had time for leisurely exploration, perhaps I'd make time for community service. We're a long way from that reality.

In the meantime, I'll say this: I care about Tiverton, and about Rhode Island, enough that I want people to be able to live here. I care about it enough to strive to prevent hard times from scraping it bare. Some who feel proprietorship of towns wish to preserve them in a state of fond once-ago, behind glass, as it were, in a state of glory. Such displays are wonderful for figurines — not so much for human beings.

The people in a place add its color and give it purpose, and I'd propose that if you care about your hometown, you care even about those who are changing its face, even about those who are passing through.

November 12, 2008

A Good Deed in the Neighborhood

Justin Katz

This sort of good deed is so important:

Christopher and Terri Potts bought a fixer-upper house, pledging to tackle upgrades a little at a time as their toddler son, Jackson, grew up.

But the new father never got a chance to finish what he started. In the spring of 2004, less than a year after the family moved into their tiny ranch house on East Beardsworth Road, Christopher was shipped out to Iraq with his Rhode Island National Guard unit.

And there he died, that October, on his 38th birthday. ...

The organization, a part of the Rhode Island Builders Association, helps create better homes for wounded veterans or families of those killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. When its members heard about Potts' death, in a gun battle while serving with the Guard's Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 103rd Field Artillery Division, they knew they had their first project.

Four years after his death, Christopher Potts' home is mended, in more ways than one.

Nothing can recompense the heroic sacrifice, but such expressions of appreciation can at least go so far as to honor it.

May 22, 2008

Senseless Tragedy in Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

Foremost, my prayers are with the family of Joseph Pagano, who by every account I've read was a well-liked and well-respected member of the community.

I'll agree with Lt. Pagano's former boss Michael Traficante, quoted in yesterday's Cranston Herald

“We have become a very sick society if we have to resort to a lethal weapon when a child steps on our lawn or if their balls go onto our property. This is a black mark on our community.”
And I'll respect the professional judgment of Cranston Police Chief Stephen McGrath before saying anything else…
He also said he was a little bit concerned about all the conflicting stories that have been treated as news.

“Until we know for sure what happened, all that is just speculation and it doesn’t help us at all,” he said.