The Uprising! November 16, 2018

Chapel Grille

“I get along with most women in the universe.”
-Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello

Welcome to The Uprising!

The quote at the top of this piece is from this morning’s bonus q and a between The Public’s Radio‘s Ian Donnis, Scott MacKay and Nicholas Mattiello. Couldn’t be a fresher quote.

Let’s do this!

1a. Nicholas Mattiello

Supporting Representative Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) as Speaker means supporting his past and future actions, policies and statements towards women. Many Representatives are fine with that, but some, like Representatives Gregg Amore (Democrat, District 65, East Providence) and Christopher Blazejewski (Democrat, District 2, Providence), are making moves to demonstrate that being pro-Mattiello does not mean they are anti-woman.

Amore has issued a press release “requesting that the issues brought forth by the House Commission to Study Sexual Harassment in the Workplace be heard in committee immediately following re-introduction.”

Blazejewski, acting on behalf of the leadership team he’s a stalwart part of, “plans to prefile legislation ahead of the 2019 legislative session that would reform the General Assembly’s policies and procedure relating to sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment by establishing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer and Special Committee on Professional Conduct with broad investigatory and disciplinary powers.”

In his sit down interview with the Providence Journal‘s editorial page editor Ed Achorn, done right after his Chapel Grille caucus meeting, Mattiello telegraphed Blazejewski’s legislation, saying, “We’re going to put forth some type of specific procedure that takes my office right out of it and puts a professional in charge of it and wherever that goes it goes. I don’t want to be part of the process. I want to take politics completely out of it and have a professional in charge of it.”

A full analysis of the future prospects of meaningful sexual harassment policies and legislation in the General Assembly during the next legislative session is here:

Legislators supporting Speaker Mattiello do so at their peril

1b. Women

Does Speaker Nicholas Mattiello have an issue with women? He has none on his leadership team, which is entirely made up of white males, including Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), Majority Whip John Edwards (Democrat, District 70, Tiverton) and Deputy Majority Whip Christopher Blazejewski.

“As honestly as I can say, I absolutely respect women,” said Mattiello to the Providence Journal‘s Ed Achorn. “I probably treat women better than most people.”

This reminded some of Tweets like this from our president:

Here’s a partial list of the Speaker’s actions from just this year that may be of concern to women:

  • The Speaker has refused to move on a series of bills developed by the House Commission to Study Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, led by Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown), tightening the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • The Speaker derailed Representative Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol)’s Fair Pay Act, passed unanimously in the Senate.
  • The Speaker refused to address women’s concerns over the possible overturning of Roe v Wade by passing Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence)’s Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA)(S2163/H7340).
  • The Speaker refused to bring to a vote legislation submitted by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse so that adult victim of such reprehensible acts can sue institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, where such abuse has been rampant.
  • The Speaker failed to properly address or resolve sexual harassment complaints made by Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence).
  • The Speaker endorsed a Trump-supporting former Republican over freshman Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) in her re-election bid.
  • The Speaker told WLVI/Channel 12 reporter Kim Kalunian, “I’m going to have a new policy going forward: news media outlets that treat me fairly and are objective, I’m going to converse more with.”

1c. Christopher Blazejewski

Representative Christopher Blazejewski is in a particularly tight spot. An avowed progressive, Blazejewski is in the number four position on Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s leadership team, serving as Deputy Majority Whip. In a form email sent to more than a few of his constituents, Blazejewski explained his support for Mattiello by stressing that he doesn’t always support the Speaker, writing, “I ran against Mattiello for Speaker just two terms ago, and am not afraid to stand up against him or anyone else — and have the track record to prove it — if it is the best way to represent our neighborhood and support our values through political action.”

A request to Blazejewski for an interview with UpiseRI has gone unanswered. I have a lot of really good questions.

On Saturday, November 17, from 11am- 2pm, there will be an “Accountability Canvass in Representative Christopher Blazejewski’s district.” The organizers, representing a group calling itself Rhode Islanders for Reform, will canvass Blazejewski’s district “to let his constituents know that as part of the Speaker’s leadership team he’s tacitly supporting corruption. We will go to the voters and ask his constituents to demand that Representative Blazejewski do better by not supporting the current House leadership.”

1d. Ed Achorn

At his election night celebration party, Mattiello told WPRI/Channel 12 reporter Kim Kalunian, “I’m going to have a new policy going forward: news media outlets that treat me fairly and are objective, I’m going to converse more with.”

The Speaker quickly made good on his promise, granting a half hour interview to Ed Achorn, the Providence Journal editorial pages editor, on Achorn’s podcast, appropriately called The Insiders. The Providence Journal gave Mattiello a glowing pre-election endorsement, and was granted an interview, as a good media deserves under Mattiello’s definition of “objective.”

I’ve done the work of transcribing some of Mattiello’s statements on three important topics:

Speaker Mattiello shares his current thinking on reproductive rights and codifying Roe v Wade

Speaker Mattiello shares his current thinking on the Invenergy power plant and energy in New England

Speaker Mattiello shares his current thinking on sexual harassment and respect for women

1e. The Public’s Radio

Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay had a terrific interview with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Donnis asked Mattiello directly about the Speaker’s statement to Channel 12/WLVI‘s Kim Kalunian:

“On election night you said you were introducing a new media policy and that you’d be speaking more with some media outlets and less with others. How will you determine your approach to different media organizations?” asked Donnis.

“Maybe I don’t talk to you,” said the Speaker, laughing. “Just joking! Just joking! No. I don’t have a new media policy. That evening I was frustrated by particular reporting. I had the Adrenalin running from just receiving the results of my victory and I was giving a speech to my supporters so I made that particular statement. There is no new policy. I will say this, Ian, I’ve been probably the most, and I leave it to you to prove me wrong, but I’ve probably been the most accessible Speaker this state has ever had and I don’t anticipate changing that in any way.”

Listen to all the Speakers comments here:

Political Roundtable: Mattiello On Rebel Democrats, Harassment & Improving RI’s Economy

Bonus Q&A: Mattiello On Legislative Process, Abortion, Punishing Dissidents & More

2a. Privatization

Privatization is an economic tool used by governments in which public goods and services are turned over to private, for profit industries. At Riffraff in Olneyville, Thomas M Hanna, research director at The Democracy Collaborative in Washington, DC proposed the opposite: promoting and protecting public ownership. Hanna was promoting his new book, Our Common Wealth: The return of public ownership in the United States.

“Contrary to decades of neoliberal propaganda, there has never actually been a consensus in the empirical or theoretical literature about whether or not public ownership is less efficient than private ownership,” said Hanna in his opening remarks. “So in the book I have a whole chapter where there’s dozens and dozens of studies, brilliant well-known academics, not people who are very friendly towards public ownership, going into their studies and saying, ‘Well, I was expecting to find that private ownership was going to be this much more efficient and in fact, public ownership is as efficient or more efficient than private ownership…'”

You can watch Hanna’s entire presentation here:

Our Common Wealth: The return of public ownership in the United States

2b. Public Private Partnerships

Public Private Partnerships, also known as PPPs or P3s, is the latest form of privatization. Think of it as privatization on steroids. Under privatization, a private company would take over the ownership of a public asset, like a reservoir. This ownership comes with an obligation to preserve the asset, which can hinder the profitability of the entire scheme. Under a PPP arrangement, a private company only assumes the management of an asset, not the ownership. Over the course of a PPP contract, the asset can be degraded, the costs of upkeep deferred, until the end of the contract when the PPP created corporate structure is dissolved and the asset is returned to the public in a condition much worse than it was before.

Think of a reservoir where all the essential wetlands around it have been developed into superstores and parking lots, and the water quality degraded. The cost of restoration may well be many times the putative savings promised by the PPP advocates, if restoration is possible at all.

Advocates for PPPs disagree with my assessment, of course.

“There is a lot of debate, historically, about a P3 (Public-Private Partnership). Some people think that a P3 is any relationship between a public entity and a private entity, but we’re talking in a more technical sense here of a public-private partnership really fundamentally grounded in contract,” said John Smolen, partner at the law firm Nossaman LLP on behalf of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPPP), of which he is also a board member. “It’s where a public entity, through an enabling statute, ordinance or otherwise is empowered to enter into an arrangement with a private sector for participation and financing of a public project.”

According to Smolen, P3’s are, “in a way, in between two extremes. On one extreme is a traditional, government procurement… on the other side of the spectrum there is a privatization, which is taking a public good, and essentially selling to the public sector and removing your responsibility for it.

“A public-private partnership,” continues Smolen, “is neither of those things.

“So, if there’s a political point to make, and it’s often confused, public-private partnerships isn’t a fancy long word for privatization. It simply is not. Privatization is a completely different legal undertaking…”

Exactly two years ago as I write this, just as our nation was coming to grips with the results of the presidential elections, the “Commission to Study the Upgrade of Facilities by Encouraging Private Investment in Qualifying Projects” held a sparsely attended public meeting at the Rhode Island State House discuss the best way to create new public-private partnerships (aka P3s or PPPs).

The commission was the result of legislation introduced by Representative Joseph Shekarchi, who ascended to the House Majority Leader position and was unable to oversee the committee.

The commission ultimately ended without making any recommendations to the House, meaning that that right now there is no system or easy on-ramp for PPPs in our state. Instead, such deals are done on an as hoc basis.

More reading on the Commission to Study the Upgrade of Facilities by Encouraging Private Investment in Qualifying Projects:

Public goods and spaces at risk as State House leaders seek to expand public-private partnerships

Skanska’s public-private partnership sales pitch at the State House

P3 advocates seek a playing field advantage before negotiations begin

Is the Public-Private Partnerships Commission asking the right questions?

3a. Providence Water

Speaking of privatization, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who handily won re-election, is still working on what he calls the monetization (read: PPP or privatization) of the Providence Water Supply Board. Richard Asinof over at ConvergencRI did a terrific interview with Elorza, and got in a question about Elorza’s plans for the water, despite the objection of the Mayor’s communication coordinator:

ConvergenceRI: In terms of quality of life issues, I know that you’ve been a proponent of potentially seeking to monetize the Providence water system.

ELORZA: Monetizing it. Selling it is off the table. We would likely lease out the management and operations rights.

ConvergenceRI: How does that fit in with preserving the quality of the water, in terms of safe drinking water?

BEN SMITH: [the mayor’s communications coordinator, interrupting] You said you wanted to talk about innovation.

ConvergenceRI: It is about innovation, if you are talking about monetizing the water system. I think it also has to do with environmental concerns and how they become part of the equation.

ELORZA: I’m happy to talk about it. There are three principles moving forward. First of all, we’re going to limit the impact on rates; there can be no compromising on the quality of water; and privatization is off the table, there has to be some kind of public oversight.

These three principles are embedded deeply in the plan that we put forward. The reason why it is important to do this is because if we do nothing, the city is going to die a slow and painful death.

All of the programs and initiatives that we want to invest in around innovation, around sustainability, around anything else, those monies are going to disappear, they are going to dry up, because they will be squeezed out by the increase in pensions.

So, we have to do something. Frankly, there is really no other option. There is not other real alternative to help us tackle the scale of the challenge that we have the unfunded pension liability.

That is what we have proposed. In the coming weeks we will be ginning up a number of community conversations specifically about this. I know that folks are very concerned and that they have questions. And, we want to engage with the community, not only about the stage of the city’s long-term finances, but the details of what we’re proposing.

If we do nothing, the city will indeed die a slow and painful death that could lead us back onto the brink of bankruptcy.

And, if we ever find ourselves in bankruptcy court, the first thing that our bankruptcy judge will look to do is to sell our water system.

And they will sell the water on their terms, not on the terms we’ve put together.

Thomas M Hanna, asked for a comment about Elorza’s plan during his appearance at Riffraff, called the idea of choosing between the water or paying for the pensions a “false trade off.”

While speaking in Canada, Hanna was presented with the idea that water is a human right and should be free to all. “But then, how do you provide it?” he asked:

3b. Question E

Hanna recently wrote a piece in In These Times about Baltimore’s recently passed ballot Question E. Hanna writes:

“On November 6, Baltimore became the first major city in the United States whose residents voted to ban water privatization. Nearly 77 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of Question E, which declared the “inalienability” of the water and sewer systems and exempted them from any city charter provisions related to franchising or operational rights.”

Read more here:

Baltimore Joins Global Movement, Becoming the First Major U.S. City to Ban Water Privatization

Here’s the coverage of Elorza’s Providence Water monetization scheme UpriseRI has provided so far:

Privatizing Providence Water will hurt Rhode Island ratepayers, imperil crucial resource

An open letter to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on privatizing our water supply

Mayor Elorza presses his case for monetizing Providence Water in Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

No guarantees and plenty of risks associated with Elorza’s water monetization plan

4. Health Care Revolt

Health Care Revolt, an organization of Rhode Island health care workers, health professionals, students and consumers, launched a petition demanding full funding for Rhode Island’s underfunded and outdated 911 system.

68 percent of tax dollars raised to support 911 have been diverted by the legislature for other purposes. Rhode Island’s 911 system lacks:

  • A Global Positioning System which puts rural Rhode Islanders at particular risk. The current system can only determine caller’s location within ¾ of a square mile, which doesn’t help emergency medical services find a cell phone caller in trouble on a dark night.
  • Emergency Medical Dispatch, where trained health professionals provide real time support and instruction to callers witnessing a medical emergency until emergency medical service arrives, and significantly quadruples survival to the hospital for victims of witnessed cardiac arrest.
  • Medical Translations, an important process to support the work of our EMTs and paramedics responding to people who speak limited English.

In March of 2018, the FCC shamed the Rhode Island legislature for diverting 911 funds to balance the budget.

Health Care Revolt aims to get 10,000 signatures demanding full funding of 911 to support improved staffing and operations.

5. White Nationalism

Resist Marxism has twice rallied to bring bring white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys to Providence.

Ocean State Against Hate shuts down Resist Marxism rally in Providence

Hate groups shut down their own rally with violence

The New York Times this week writes that U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It. The New York Times piece, by Janet Reitman, maintains that, “For two decades, domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism. In the atmosphere of willful indifference, a virulent movement has grown and metastasized.”

Reitman writes:

The first indication to Lt. Dan Stout that law enforcement’s handling of white supremacy was broken came in September 2017, as he was sitting in an emergency-operations center in Gainesville, Fla., preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma and watching what felt like his thousandth YouTube video of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Jesus Christ, he thought, studying the footage in which crowds of angry men, who had gathered to attend or protest the Unite the Right rally, set upon one another with sticks and flagpole spears and flame throwers and God knows what else. A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched. Stout fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle…”

The inaction of the Virginia State Troopers was duplicated here in Rhode Island. Watch as Rhode Island State Police inexplicably fail to respond to a fight started by the Proud Boys directly in front of them for at least a minute:

Rhode Island State Police superintendent Colonel Ann Assumpico told the Providence Journal that, “We are pleased to report that both sides were provided a safe venue in which to make their opinions known without major incident, and they dispersed peacefully after being asked to do so.”

6a. Artificial Sweeteners

Peder Schaefer at the College Hill Independent is writing about about zoning changes, tax agreements and other incentives being used to build keep Providence’s building boom booming:

“The furor surrounding the Hope Point Tower mirrors debates across Providence and Rhode Island about the place of government in private development, particularly when it comes to the use of city and state tax incentives to encourage construction. Development and construction bring drastically varied interest groups to the table: labor unions want to ensure just compensation for workers; the city wants to increase tax revenue by encouraging wealthy residents to move to Providence; advocacy groups like Providence-based Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) want to try to solve the housing crisis in Rhode Island by increasing the number of affordable units.”

6b. No Vacancy

Giacomo Sartorelli, also in the College Hill Independent, presents the other side of the equation, writing about “worrisome real estate trends and the fate of Providence’s abandoned properties.”

“Though Rhode Island’s post-recession housing and economic recovery have been on par with the rest of the country, recent housing statistics describe a real estate market with troubling similarities to the pre-recession climate, particularly in urban centers such as Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket. The 2018 Housing Fact Book, HousingWorksRI’s annual report on Rhode Island housing, identified low property vacancies and a lack of affordable housing opportunities as the most pressing issues facing the state’s long-term housing security.”

7. Eco Rhode Island

“These are big organizations and they sometimes do good things and those should be celebrated. And they sometimes do very bad things — let’s just leave it at that,” said United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, as quoted by Tim Faulkner. Faulkner was writing about the Shell Oil Company, “a big polluter in Rhode Island … getting some positive publicity for helping to fix a problem it’s accused of creating…

“The multinational corporation… was recently recognized at a press event at Save The Bay for contributing to a new federal grant program. With its logo prominently displayed, Shell was applauded, along with the reinsurance company TransRe and federal agencies, for supporting coastal restoration projections.”

This is classic greenwashing and beneath the dignity of both Senator Whitehouse and Save The Bay, who both need to start doing better.

8. Rhode Island Liberator

The great Sam Howard has an excellent analysis about what we can learn from the two-party vote share for Rhode Island House seats:

“The ongoing debate in RI politics is often “how liberal can Democrats afford to be?” There’s one school of thought that says that Democrats should be fairly conservative, to win over Republican voters. Another school of thought says that Democrats should be much more liberal, that most voters support Democrats anyway, and that matching the national party’s values are what they expect.

“The recent election gives us a chance to compare how people in Rhode Island vote, both when thinking nationally and when thinking locally. Events in the House Democratic caucus also let us compare factions within the House. So I plotted every RI House seat by Raimondo’s share of the 2018 two-party vote for governor over Clinton’s share of the 2016 two-party vote for president…”

9. Maximum wage

Setting a maximum wage for CEOs would be good for everyone

10. Pictures of the week:

A peek through the windows of Chapel Grille during Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s House Caucus meeting:


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