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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, May 4, 2018



“I live my life on birth control, I lost my mind to rock and roll,”
Janelle Monae

Compared to last week, this week was an idyll. Let’s dig in:

1a. Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza sees “monetizing” Providence’s water as the only solution to the bankruptcy of the City, given the underfunded pension situation. By turning over control of the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) to the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) Elorza hopes to generate as much as $300 million to partially plug the pension hole. Critics of the plan are concentrating on the fact that consumers will have to pay more for water. But the real issue may be whether Providence has the right to monetize a system ratepayers have already paid for.

The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (RIPUC) has consistently held position that “while the City of Providence owns the Providence Water system… it is the ratepayers, and the not Providence taxpayers, who have paid for this system. Where ratepayers have already paid for the assets of the system, the effect of this legislation would be to make them pay twice for the same assets.”

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1b. Charles Ruggerio, Son of Senate

“Any suspicion that this is a conspiracy that has something to do with the potential acquisition of the Providence Water Supply Board and our discussions as such, is a complete fabrication,” said former State Representative Vincent Mesolella, who serves as the chair of the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) ahead of a recent Senate hearing on enabling legislation that would allow the monetization of Providence Water. “It is strictly coincidental that this matter is being heard simultaneously to this legislation.”

Mesolella was addressing the nomination of Charles Ruggerio, son of Senate President Dominic Ruggerio, to the NBC board. Many think the younger Ruggerio is being placed at NBC to help the process of monetizing Providence Water.

If so, this wouldn’t be the first time Governor Gina Raimondo appointed people to a board to seemingly achieve a desired outcome. In 2017 Raimondo made several key appointments to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) that ultimately resulted in National Grid getting the okay on their proposed fracked gas liquefaction facility in the Port of Providence.

And there are people watching closely to see who will replace Parag Agrawal at the Rhode Island Department of Planning, since that person may cast a deciding vote when the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) issues a decision on Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the forests of north west Rhode Island.

2. Cuthbert Bonnie

At a protest outside Plymouth County Correctional Facility:

“Cuthbert Bonnie is a 46 year old man from the Island of Dominica,” said Jacqueline Grajales, Cuthbert’s partner. “He’s married to an American citizen and has two citizen children. He’s been here for 22 years. He’s a commercial fisherman who works very hard for his money, who asks for no handouts from this country whatsoever. He pays his own health insurance. He pays for his children’s health insurance. He’s raising two beautiful twin children. This is unfair. It’s a matter of time for his paperwork to be cleared, and they fooled him and held him in here for no reason at all.

“He’s a good man,” continued Grajales. “He has no police record. He’s never, ever been in trouble in this country. He’s a law-abiding person.”

The protest was organized by AMOR RI (Alianza para Movilizar Nuestra Resistencia) and the FANG Collective. They urge people to call and email the Boston Field Office for ICE and demand that they release Cuthbert:

(781) 359-7500

3a. Sheldon Whitehouse on superdelegates

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) held three “town hall” style meetings as part of his re-election campaign last week. I missed the one in Westerly but recorded the other two, first in Warwick and then in Providence.

Whitehouse says he isn’t interested in “re-litigating” the 2016 election, but that didn’t stop people from asking about superdelegates, who many feel stole Bernie Sanders’ primary victory in Rhode Island in 2016.

Warwick City Councilmember Richard Corley asked, “How it can be that voters voted for Bernie Sanders and… that didn’t even come up at the [Democratic] Convention?”

“I think we have to take lessons from that into the next election,” said Whitehouse, who then non-answered by rephrasing the question. “As I’ve said earlier, I think the worst thing we can do is divide ourselves by re-litigating past elections. So to me, the question is, ‘What are we going to do about the superdelegates, people who are committed first, before the [election] results come in?'”

3b. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jorge Elorza on LNG in Rhode Island

“And on the other side,” continued Whitehouse, “the proposal up north in Burrillville … is in a contested case – it’s in formal litigation before the Energy Facilities Siting Board. I personally have huge confidence in Meg Curran and Janet Coit, who are the two key decision makers – there will also be the state planning official there as soon as that gets posted – so my guess is that will end well.”

When asked about the liquefaction facility planned for the Port of Providence that will allow National Grid to begin exporting LNG to Europe, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said, “Well, it’s not going to be built. We’re not going to let that happen.”

Later, in answer to Cristina Cabrera, executive director of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, Whitehouse said, “Well, you just heard Mayor Elorza, who has a vote in all of that, and the City Council is determinative on the zoning of that, saying there isn’t going to be the LNG facility in Providence, so that’s that.”

Having followed both these issues very closely for some time now, I’m not so sure that that’s that.

3c. Sheldon Whitehouse on military budgets

In answer to a question from Jonathan Daly-LaBelle about Whitehouse’s vote in favor of the largest military budget in history, for the same Trump Administration that the Senator thinks is dangerous, Whitehouse said that to preserve the domestic programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, many Democrats felt they had to vote for the military programs in a Republican controlled Washington. “I remain proud of what we did considering we hold none of the power.”

On the other hand,

“You raise a very good point,” continued Whitehouse, “One that has been true for a long time, which is that the power of defense contractors in determining the disposition of the military budget and control over elements of the Pentagon, is too much… that is a real and genuine issue and is one we need to continue to focus on.”

That said, Whitehouse further added that he thinks “the Russians are extremely dangerous. I think that Putin is extremely dangerous…

“So I think we do have to remain a strong country militarily. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing it smart, that we shouldn’t be trying to police people who buy our weapons to make sure they are not using our weapons cruelly, and to make sure that we do it with the tax payers dollars at the forefront of our minds. So you raise a good point, it’s a very complicated set of issues, but those are the values and the framework that I try to approach them through.”

Whitehouse did not respond to Daly-Labelle’s point that when military strikes occur, the value of stocks in companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics and Textron rise, and that Whitehouse himself has holdings in such companies.

3d. Robert Flanders

Former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, who is in the Republican primary to challenge Whitehouse, is heading to Burrillville to stop by and and hear feedback, questions and concerns.

“Join us for this free event open to the public. There will be a town hall styled discussion followed by refreshments. Seating is limited in this Historic Landmark Church so arrive early! Come to listen or come to be heard but please come!”

3e. Robert Nardolillo

The first question from the audience during Whitehouse’s Providence “town hall” concerned former Judge Robert Flanders. The questioner wanted to know what Whitehouse’s response was to Flanders’ political positions that would be “harmful to the minority community and beneficial to the very wealthy?”

Whitehouse avoided the question, saying that he would rather wait until after the primary, because Flanders’ opponent, Representative Robert Nardolillo (Republican, District 28, Coventry), “may well be the candidate that comes out of that primary.” Whitehouse did not say the name of either Flanders or Nardolillo, describing the latter as an owner of a well-respected business and as a Representative who has been active in politics for some time.

When I spoke briefly with Nardolillo at the State House about Whitehouse’s speculation, he agreed with the Senator’s assessment.

3f. Lincoln Chafee

Former Mayor, Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee is 90 percent sure he’s challenging Whitehouse in the democratic Primary. In an interview with Alex Nunes, Chafee displayed some odd lacuna in knowledge about some key issues.

NUNES: Do you have any opinion on stock buybacks?

CHAFEE: Oh boy. I’ll have to get up to speed [on that].

NUNES: A stock buyback is when a publicly traded company uses its funds to buyback its own stock on the open market. A number of people say it’s a way that corporate money is being misused and perpetuates inequality. The money is not going to employees. It’s going towards inflating the stock price. It’s not a topic you’re as familiar with?

CHAFEE: Correct. At this time. I want to be knowledgeable before I comment in detail.


NUNES: You’re for single-payer, or are you someone who thinks there should be a public insurance option?

CHAFEE: Are they kind of the same?

NUNES: Single-payer would eliminate private insurance altogether. A public option would mean people would have an option to purchase a government plan, but there would still be private insurance. People who advocate for Medicare For All say you have to go single-payer all the way to control costs.

CHAFEE: I have to flesh out those complexities.

It’s a great interview and worth your time.

4. Sinclair Broadcast Group

“We believe in the integrity of the free press and stand ADAMANTLY against forced propaganda which imminently threatens OUR VERY DEMOCRACY!” wrote Turn Off 10, the organizers of a protest that targeted Cardi’s Furniture & Mattresses at 1681 Quaker Lane in West Warwick.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is an American telecommunications company. The company is the largest television station operator in the United States by number of stations and total coverage. Since taking ownership of WJAR/10 in Rhode Island, Sinclair Media Group has mandated that the station include two minutes of right-wing or pro-Trump propaganda in local news broadcasts nine times a week.

Earlier this month Peter Cardi spoke with Bob Plain at RI Future:

“We looked at the whole station and said if we pull them, then we are liable,” Peter Cardi said in an interview with RI Future. “Those guys are sue crazy – not the local guys, the national guys.”

“We gave them our opinion as bluntly as we could,” he said. “We don’t like it. Our opinion is news is news. We don’t want it slanted one way or another.”

During the protest, a smaller group broke off and protested WJAR/10 advertiser Speedcraft Auto Group a short distance away at 883 Quaker Lane in West Warwick.

5. Halima Ibrahim

Ibrahim delivered one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard from the back steps of the State House at the March for Our Lives in March. The Woman Project has a terrific interview with the 15-year old bicultural artist and activist that demands to be read in full. Here’s a small excerpt:

As for actually giving the speech, I’m going to be completely honest… I blacked out. All I remember is walking up to the mic, then walking back to my seat and hearing the crowd chanting “WAKE UP!” It was only when I watched the video of the full speech that I learned that I didn’t completely mess up.

It’s surreal. I still don’t fully believe I actually did it. And with the number of responses I’m getting because of it, it makes it even harder to believe. Especially the responses saying my speech brought them to tears because personally, I don’t see what part of it could do that. Then again I don’t cry very easily so maybe that explains it.

6. Rhode Island Womxn’s Action Initiative

Rhode Island Women’s March, which has staged several very successful rallies in the wake of the Trump Presidency, has changed their name to Rhode Island Womxn’s Action Initiative (RI-WAI) and disaffiliated from National Women’s March in the interest of less antisemitism and more democracy.

The use of the letter “x” in the word “womxn” is a deliberate choice to show inclusion of transwomen and nonbinary folks in our definition of women.

7. Nicholas Mattiello

“I see no efforts nationally to change the Roe v Wade standards,” said Mattiello on Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR).

“Wait a minute,” said RIPR Political Reporter Scott McKay. “There’s a new law in almost every state , every day and a new court case challenging it, it seems.”

“I haven’t seen the law, or the court case,” countered Mattiello. “If there is, please bring it to my attention at some point but I have not seen the court case that challenges Roe v Wade. I mean, some states are trying to limit it, but that’s not what the concern is. The concern is an overturn of Roe v Wade and there’s no case in the system anywhere so I don’t think it’s a real concern and I just remind folks that this is a very divisive issue on both sides.

“It’s an issue that would utilize all the oxygen in the room and we’ve got significant budget challenges, we’ve got the PawSox we’re working on, we’ve got important bills that are of concern to a lot of people, and I choose to concentrate on everything and not utilize every drop or ounce of oxygen on one particular issue which is not of consequence either way. For everybody that wants that there’s almost someone that doesn’t want it, so it’s just divisive for no real end, no real benefit either way. Roe v Wade is not going to be overturned I think that’ a concern that’s not founded in reality.”

8. Aaron Regunberg

“We are proud to announce Aaron Regunberg for Lieutenant Governor as our first endorsement of this election cycle, said Craig O’Connor, treasurer of the Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island PAC (PPV!RI PAC). “Aaron has been and will continue to be a tireless, passionate, and outspoken leader on access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”

9. State House Day Care

“Over the past month the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW) did something that has never been done before. We organized free child care at the State House,” writes RI NOW President Hilary Levey Friedman and Alyson Powell, co-chair of RI NOW’s child-care Initiative in a ProJo oped. “The purpose was two-fold: to give parents a voice on issues that are central to our mission, and to help remove one of the barriers that prevent women from full, active participation in public life.”

10. ISO New England

A new report shows that ISO-New England used unreasonable assumptions in its Operational Fuel Security Analysis released on January 17, 2018. ISO’s original analysis demonstrated “significant grid reliability issues and rolling blackouts under almost all scenarios studied.” But when the analysis was conducted with reasonable assumptions, “reliable electricity service, with no rolling blackouts, is likely in an extreme 2024/25 winter without any increase in regional gas infrastructure if states continue to implement current policies.”

ISO’s mission, says ISO CEO Gordon van Welie, “is to achieve reliability through wholesale markets and we’re technology neutral. So ultimately, as long as the resources are providing us the reliability services that we need, we don’t care where the energy is coming from, and that’s by the design. In the context of being market neutral we’re also independent of all market participants. We set up as a not-for-profit, and we’re not allowed to have any financial interest in any entity that operates in the market.”

Perhaps no financial interest, but ideological conflicts seem to abound. It is difficult to not read ISO’s recent mistake in light of comments van Welie has made in support of LNG expansion.

For instance, Kathryn R Eiseman at CommonWealth writes, “When I participated in a small-group, sit-down meeting in late 2014 with Gordon van Welie, the ISO’s CEO, a disconnect was palpable – between how we envision a sustainable power system, and the vision held by the ISO’s leadership. Van Welie did not dispute the impacts of climate change, but told us that he expects things to get very ugly in that regard before business as usual changes. His team touted the ISO’s integration of demand-side resources and renewables into their forecasting, but cast our energy challenges as essentially insurmountable without a major buildout of natural gas infrastructure. Van Welie admitted that he had his ‘finger on the scale’ in favor of additional gas pipelines in the region. Public records requests filed by the Conservation Law Foundation earlier that year unearthed meeting notes showing that van Welie had gone further, telling state and federal regulators that ‘what you need to do is overbuild’ the pipeline.”

11. National Day of Prayer

How do I say this nicely?

Here’s the Rhode Island House of Representatives crapping the legacy of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams:

“As you know, my distinguished colleagues, prayer is very very powerful,” said Representative Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence). “Regardless of what denomination you’re from, it does something for us.”

Unless, perhaps, you’re one of the 39 percent of Rhode Islanders who identify as “not religious,” I suppose.

Rhode Island is the first government on earth to enshrined the principle of separation of church and state into law.

We need to attach the corpse of Roger Williams to an electrical generator and capture the energy of his spinning in his grave.

12. Twitter is nice, sometimes.

13. Tampon Tax

Catherine Tonsberg, a policy associate at the ACLU of Rhode Island calls the sales tax charge on feminine hygiene products “an incredibly regressive tax but not only a regressive tax but an incredibly discriminatory one. These feminine products are not luxury items.”

H7095, introduced by Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence), would “exempt from the sales tax products used for feminine hygiene in connection with the menstrual cycle.”

“I want to encourage all of you to be leaders on the fight for menstrual justice,” said Ange Strom-Weber. “Representative Giarusso, you could be, your name in lights, for doing this…”

Giarusso laughs.

“When men do it they get a lot more credit than women do and this seems to be a mostly male committee so this would be a great opportunity for all of you to show your support for women,” continued Strom-Weber.

Giarusso said that he is in full support of the bill.

Antonio Giarusso (Republican, District 30, East Greenwich) is facing a strong challenge for his seat from Democrat Justine Caldwell, who has called him out for skipping sexual harassment training at the State House.

14. Giovanni Feroce

When asked if he will drop out off the race for Governor of Rhode Island, Republican candidate Giovanni Feroce said, “Absolutely not. It’s not even a consideration,” from a location “in the New York area.”

A judge has issued a warrant for Feroce for failure to appear in court. Feroce disputes that he is at risk for arrest… on the phone… from an undisclosed location in New York..

Feroce’s also impugning the reporting of ProJo reporter Amanda Milkovits, taking a page out of Trump’s playbook.

Just to be clear, Milkovits is not wrong.

15. Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence opposes the “repeal Rhode Island’s seven-year statute of limitations on the pursuit of legal claims against perpetrators of sex crimes against minors.”

From the Providence Journal:

While he did not testify, the Rev. Bernard A. Healey, the priest-lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, sent The Providence Journal a statement that said, in part: “The Diocese of Providence has in place one of the strongest sexual abuse prevention and protection programs in the United States.

“Over 25 years ago, the diocese created its Office of Education and Compliance to investigate claims and oversee safe environment policies in all its many parishes, schools and agencies. This office is currently headed by a retired 20-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police.”

“While we have a deep compassion for innocent and suffering victims and a continued commitment to the prevention of sexual abuse, the Rhode Island Catholic Conference must express its serious reservations regarding this legislation,″ he said, citing legal ambiguities in the wording and the potential dangers in removing the statute of limitations entirely.

Among his arguments: Statutes of limitations “guard against false or misrepresented claims″ by “preventing old claims in which evidence is lost, memories change and witnesses disappear …The only acts which do not carry a statute of limitations are criminal acts which carry life imprisonment.”

Here’s Doctor HerbertHubBrennan telling his heartbreaking story about sexual abuse to the House of Representatives in March:

16. Benjamin Lay

Here’s the story of Benjamin Lay, the forgotten, radical, abolitionist Quaker.

“Ideas must be acted out in visible, confrontational ways. Principles must be lived and expressed in everything one does.”

17. Dr Martin Luther King Jr

On Saturday, May 5, 2018, March for Racial Justice Rhode Island along with Rhode Island Jobs with Justice and many other organizations and community members will reclaim Dr King’s legacy. This is a celebration of his vision of a multi-racial, and multi-ethnic poor people’s movement. We need it now more than ever.

The event will run from 12-3 at the Roger Williams National Memorial, 282 North Main Street in Providence.

18. Picture of the week:

That’s all for now!

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.