Farah Rose Escamilla-Taveras was born at 5:36 a.m. Saturday. “Mom and baby are doing great!” the mayor reports on his Facebook page.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox wants to curtail one of the General Assembly’s most cherished traditions: the mad dash to pass a backlog of legislation during the closing days of the session.
“I strongly believe that if bills, particularly non-budgetary items, are introduced earlier in the session it helps the House of Representatives to vet and consider the information in an orderly manner,” Fox wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Governor Chafee obtained by WPRI.com. “It also prevents or lessens the chances of bills not being given the due consideration that they deserve before the General Assembly session ends.”
In addition to the governor, Fox reached out this month to other leaders including Treasurer Gina Raimondo, rank-and-file House members, state agency chiefs and the judiciary in an effort to get a head start on the 2012 legislative session. State lawmakers return to Smith Hill on Tuesday.
This is the first time Fox, a Providence Democrat who succeeded former Speaker Bill Murphy in February 2010, and his staff have tried to get an early handle on the legislative priorities of various officials and departments, spokesman Larry Berman told WPRI.com.
Roger Williams – the founding father of Rhode Island whose name is often invoked by Governor Chafee, most recently to defend “holiday trees” – gets quite a bit of ink in this weekend’s editions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Both papers reviewed John Barry’s new book, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty,” which drops Thursday. From the sounds of it, Williams was more of a radical than modern Rhode Islanders may realize.
Joyce Chaplin, The Times’ reviewer, is only lukewarm about the book itself, but she’s a big fan of its subject:
A “hedge or wall of Separation” between church and state was affirmed by the Constitution; rights for Indians were not. Williams would have considered it a battle half-won. He did not think an “American soul” needed to be created — such souls already existed within Indians. By largely confining Williams’s story to the establishment of liberties for America’s adopted populations, without equal attention to the defense of its indigenous inhabitants, Barry has perhaps underestimated his remarkable subject.
Some of Chaplin’s descriptions of Williams actually sound a bit like how Chafee’s supporters view the governor. She writes of “how puzzling a character [Williams] was, exasperatingly admirable,” and that, while generally well-liked, he nevertheless “seemed determined to offend.”
The company will release its first game, “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,” just over a month from now, and while that’s not the project the state is helping to fund, its success or failure will have a huge impact on 38 Studios’ future.
The early buzz for “Reckoning” has been positive, and in Thursday’s New York Times the paper’s game reviewer Seth Schiesel put the release on his list of ones to watch in the new year:
Once upon a time, the winter months were sleepy in game land. Not anymore. Early 2012 will bring the release of not only some closely watched games, but also a major new portable hardware system. And Nintendo has said it intends to introduce its successor to the Wii, the Wii U, some time after May. …
KINGDOMS OF AMALUR: RECKONING In addition to being a longtime gamer, Curt Schilling also happens to be a former pretty good professional baseball pitcher. So naturally his game company, 38 Studios, is named after his jersey number. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a single-player fantasy adventure, is 38’s first major project. On the heels of similar hits like The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, offline role-playing games seem to be enjoying a minor resurgence, and none too soon. (To be released on Feb. 7 for Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts won’t be challenging independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee for Rhode Island’s top job in 2014.
“I do not see a scenario where I would run against Chafee,” Roberts, a second-term Democrat frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for governor, said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers.” Roberts previously opted not to enter the crowded field of Democrats who tried and failed to win last year.
Roberts, who is barred by from seeking another term as lieutenant governor, was more cagey about the possibility that she would challenge Treasurer Gina Raimondo in a Democratic primary for governor three years from now. The full episode of “Newsmakers” will be posted on WPRI.com later today.
My colleague Kat Sotnik passes along this bit of gossip from the Boston Herald’s Inside Track columnists:
The interwebs are abuzz with multiple sightings of the “X Factor” judge with not one, but two sons of Providence Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio who, BTW, has his own local TV show, “Caught in Providence.” …
Paula spent the hols on the South Coast of Rhode Island with the Caprio fam and on Tuesday ventured into neighboring Massachusetts, where she put in an appearance at a tasting at Wines & More in Wareham with hunky store franchisee John Caprio.
The scion of the political family added fuel to the lovey-dovey rumors when John told WarehamWeek.com — with a big smile on his face — that Mizz Abdul was “a good friend of mine.” Hmmm. Can’t hear that enough …
Back in Little Rhody, Paula was spotted supping at Papa Razzi in Cranston with John’s older bro, state Rep. David Caprio, a bachelor. And yesterday she popped into Pinkberry at Garden City Center with her bodyguard and shopped at Sephora in the Providence Place Mall, where she snapped pics with fans, according to the Twitterverse.
Inside Track doesn’t have the details quite right on David Caprio’s political history – he was a state representative from Narragansett but lost the Democratic primary to Teresa Tanzi last September. His brother Frank was, of course, state treasurer and the Democratic candidate for governor last year.
Update: Cranston Patch’s ace reporter Mark Schieldrop had the Abdul-Caprio story on Wednesday – with a photo.
Update #2: Thanks to Don Botts, via Twitter, for correcting my own brain freeze – Caprio was a state representative, while Frank Caprio was a state senator. This post has been corrected, but the URL will live on an infamy.
Update #3: WPRO has more details and photos from Abdul’s visit to Rhode Island.
Months of squabbling without resolution between Walgreen and pharmacy-benefits manager Express Scripts will put about 90 million prescriptions up for grabs next year, and CVS expects to swoop in and nab up to 23 million of them. Last week, CVS raised its dividend 30% and projected its profit will jump in 2012 even before accounting for any business it takes away from Walgreen.
The news boosted shares of CVS, Rhode Island’s biggest private company, above $40 a share for the first time since 2008. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sank $190 million into the company earlier this year. Goldman Sachs and Barclays project the shares could reach $44, with the latter picking CVS as one of its top seven retail stocks for 2012. A Seeking Alpha contributor declared CVS “an investor’s dream.”
Barron’s has been arguing this fall that the 2007 merger of CVS and Caremark Rx is finally bearing fruit after a rocky first few years of integration; an analyst with Cohen & Steers Capital Management told the magazine the company “is turning the corner.” Going forward, medical experts have high hopes for CVS’s MinuteClinics and its competitors, and the company is also pushing mobile purchases.
It’s not all roses – this month CVS also agreed to pay $20 million to settle claims that it defrauded customers including California’s enormous pension fund, and a number of investigations into its business practices are still under way. Nevertheless, 2012 looks like it could be a promising year for the Woonsocket company that’s #21 on the Fortune 500 and employs 5,800 Rhode Islanders, sixth-most of any organization in the state.
Update: And the news just gets better for CVS. “Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson said Friday chances are probably ‘slim to none’ that the drugstore operator will reach an agreement with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts before their current contract ends Saturday,” the AP reports.
• Related: 1.2 billion prescriptions, and more CVS by the numbers (Feb. 22)
Raimondomania hits cable news. Watch the video here. (The embed codes still aren’t working for me.)
I agree with Dan Kennedy that this is a somewhat incomplete picture of what gets read. For one thing, the posts used to be available on the main page in full and you didn’t have to click on a post to read it all the way. (Some shorter posts are still run in full there.) Also, the biggest stories run as regular articles on WPRI.com.
Still, I think this is an interesting snapshot. Without further ado, then, my annotated top 12 of 2011 – and thank you, as always, for reading!
#1. Analysis: Why Rhode Island passed pension reform in 2011 (Nov. 17) – No surprise here. Pensions were probably the topic I wrote about most, and this column-esque piece from the night the Raimondo-Chafee bill passed the House and Senate was my attempt to put the year’s events in perspective.
One of my producers passed along the initial list of Sears and Kmart stores being closed by parent company Sears Holdings Corp. – no locations in Rhode Island or Massachusetts are on the list, but it only includes 79 of the 100 to 120 the company plans to shutter in total.
The full list is available as a PDF here.
The chances of Rhode Island’s economy falling back into recession in the first half of 2012 have dropped sharply but remain much higher than in other states, according to the latest numbers from Moody’s Economy.com.
The firm’s analysts put the odds of a double-dip recession in Rhode Island at 49% as of December, a big decrease from the 59% probability they projected in November.
The only states more at risk of recession as of December are Connecticut (70%) and Wyoming (54%), according to Moody’s. Massachusetts has a 44% likelihood of a double-dip, and the odds for the U.S. economy as a whole are 34%. The least likely place to have another recession is Washington, D.C., at just 5%.
Moody’s updated its Risk of Recession Index on Dec. 19, the same day the firm’s credit analysts released a report on local pension plans in Rhode Island that cited the 59% probability of a double-dip in the state as of November.
The index uses eight economic metrics to offer “a leading indicator of a region’s economic performance,” Moody’s says. “Turning points in the probabilities suggest a slowing or acceleration in a region’s economy activity.”
Set those DVRs – Treasurer Gina Raimondo will appear on MSNBC’s “Dylan Ratigan Show” at 4 p.m. Thursday with guest host Matt Miller. She’ll be part of a “Megapanel” along with Mark Tapscott, Susan DelPercio and Jimmy Williams. She apparently came to the program’s attention thanks to that recent Time magazine article.
Update: Looks like it’s Rhode Island day on MSNBC. A tipster called to say Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller is on the cable network right now (12:55 p.m.) and indeed she is.
In the wake of two high-profile reports of cyber attacks this month – first against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, then the elite consultancy Stratfor Global Intelligence – Congressman Jim Langevin is renewing his call for Washington to take stronger steps to protect the nation’s digital infrastructure.
The Stratfor attack is particularly concerning, Langevin said. ”When you have a major firm specializing in cybersecurity getting hacked this way, it gives you an idea of how difficult this problem is and how much ground still needs to be covered to better secure our cyber networks,” he said Wednesday in a statement.
“Consider also that many of our most critical industries still aren’t taking cyber threats seriously, even though they do not have the level of expertise that Stratfor does and an attack on them could result in much more serious damage than this incident,” Langevin said. In the past, he’s pointed to electric and water utilities as potential targets.
Rhode Island’s 2nd District congressman has become one of Congress’s leading authorities on digital threats and is cofounder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. In June he authored an op-ed for The Hill’s website entitled “Preventing a cyber Sept. 11.” (For more on the topic, try David Scharfenberg’s May Providence Phoenix story.)
However, Langevin has yet to weigh in on the top hot-button digital debate roiling Congress these days: the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that’s before the House Judiciary Committee. But considering the concerns experts have raised about its potential to compromise cybersecurity, it won’t be surprising if he decides to oppose it.
Matt Yglesias writes the following in a recent review of Lawrence Lessig’s new book:
Arizona, a state that’s adopted an admirable clean-elections campaign-finance law, is hardly free from special-interest influence. Instead, the combination of low-paid, part-time legislators with term limits and meager staff resources (in the Arizona House, some members get a half-time secretary) makes members dangerously dependent on the “legislative subsidy” that savvy lobbyists can provide. Problems of this kind are endemic to American state government ….
Rhode Island, like Arizona, has a corps of “low-paid, part-time legislators” (though no term limits). Do you think this is what the situation is like here, too?
With revenue and circulation still falling precipitously, the Projo is poised to bet big on pushing readers back to print by forcing those who want all its content to either subscribe to the print edition or read it in an electronic format that’s an exact digital replica of the dead tree version.
The strategy is risky, to say the least. The new ProvidenceJournal.com’s debut was met with withering criticism, including from the paper’s own commenters. The e-edition software developed by Olive Interactive remains buggy (the share tools stopped working on Firefox 8 for Mac earlier this month) and its article pages don’t even say that you’re reading a Providence Journal story. There are still no Projo iPhone or Android apps. It’s all a marked contrast with the award-winning new BostonGlobe.com, also launched this fall and also charging readers.
Journal management is notoriously tight-lipped, so it’s hard to judge if the new website is meeting their expectations. Compete.com says the paper’s unique visitors on the Web plunged from 425,486 in September (on Projo.com) to 233,091 in November (on ProvidenceJournal.com). But take that with a grain of salt, since Compete’s numbers are notoriously unreliable.
For those of you who think politicians on Smith Hill will do absolutely anything to fill the state’s coffers, here’s a seasonally appropriate case where Rhode Island has opted not to raise revenue: old gift cards.
Gift cards are a big business, with $27.8 billion worth expected to be given this Christmas season. But a sizable chunk of that money never gets redeemed – one analyst estimates $41 billion of the money put on gift cards since 2005 won’t get spent.
But companies can’t count gift cards they sell as income until they actually get spent on goods – so what happens to those billions of dollars in leftover funds? The SEC doesn’t have a strict rule, the WSJ reports; Best Buy, for example, booked $53 million worth of income this year from active gift cards that are more than two years old.
MetLife said Tuesday it will sell about $7.5 billion of its decade-old MetLife Bank unit’s deposits plus its online-banking system to General Electric’s GE Capital division. The transaction is expected to close by next June.
What may surprise Rhode Islanders is that the FDIC lists MetLife Bank as the third-largest financial institution it insures in the state. Bank of America is first with 48% of the market and Citizens Bank is second with 23%, while MetLife comes in third with $4.1 billion in deposits and 9.5%, the FDIC said as of June 30.
But those figures are a quirk of the FDIC’s measurement methods, not a sign of little-known local dominance by the insurer.
The call center where MetLife Bank employees take deposits is located in West Warwick, and therefore the FDIC counts all the money that flows through there as Rhode Island money, even though little of it belongs to Rhode Islanders.
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy sent an email appeal Wednesday to seek donations to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, a nonprofit educational center being built on the campus of the UMass Boston.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the institute was held in April, and Kennedy said he expects “significant milestones” in its development next year. He pointed out donations to the nonprofit made before Saturday can be deducted from this year’s tax bills.
“As a young child, I had the great privilege of walking the halls of the Capitol with my dad, Ted Kennedy, as he worked tirelessly to make America live up to its highest ideals,” Kennedy wrote.
Rhode Island’s late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell got a brief mention on Tuesday night’s edition of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC. During a discussion of a new Washington Post report about the growing wealth of federal lawmakers, Matthews related this anecdote:
There was a muddy day up in Rhode Island one time, and Claiborne Pell – the elite Claiborne Pell – borrowed some galoshes from a young guy. And he brought it to back to him and he said, “Where’d you get these from?” And he said, “I got it from Thom McAn.” And [Pell] said, “Would you thank Thom for me?” He had no recognition of the human experience.
For my fellow Millennials who are scratching their heads at the story, Thom McAn was apparently a chain store owned by the Melville Corporation, the forerunner of CVS Caremark, that sold shoes.
You can watch the “Hardball” clip here. (MSNBC.com’s embed code isn’t working.) Thanks to reader JA for the tip. The Thom McAn story is also told in G. Wayne Miller’s new biography of Pell, “An Uncommon Man.”
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – For the three candidates running for Congress in Rhode Island’s 1st District, the most important number come New Year’s Eve won’t be on a ball in Times Square. It will be their fourth-quarter fundraising totals.
Democratic Congressman David Cicilline and the two Republicans who want to win his seat, Brendan Doherty and John Loughlin, have just four days left to raise money and have it show up on their final fundraising reports for 2011.
Doherty, a political newcomer, has proven to be a skilled fundraiser since he jumped into the race last spring. As of Sept. 30, Cicilline’s campaign had $379,122 on hand while Doherty’s had $373,105, a difference of only about $6,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Loughlin, who has not formally entered the race yet, had far less – $12,669 – in his account.
Cicilline’s fundraising schedule was hampered this month by the tug-of-war between House Republicans and the Senate over whether to extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits, which forced him to remain in Washington for two weeks longer than expected.
After a few days off, the blog is back to full force this morning. I hope all of you had a great holiday (or are still having one, if you’re lucky enough). And a special thank you to the guest writers who filled in while I was away: Tim White, Gary Morse, Maureen Martin, David Segal, Patrick Laverty and John Marion.
Also, a quick programming note – the blog will be quiet on Friday and Monday due to a mix of New Year’s and television responsibilities on my end. For now, though, let’s return to the theme park for reporters that is Rhode Island.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed has been given the unenviable task of helping to broker a long-term compromise on the payroll tax cut (and jobless benefits) after a two-month extension passed last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Reed wasn’t an accidental choice (via the NYT):
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, will be a member of the House-Senate conference committee. In picking him, Mr. Reid noted that Rhode Island had high unemployment and said “no one in the Senate has been more protective of the unemployed.”
The position taken by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed will play a key part in determining what role the General Assembly will play in dealing with Rhode Island’s 36 locally run municipal pension plans next year. Jim Baron of The Pawtucket Times and The Woonsocket Call sat down with the Newport Democrat and got her take.
Paiva Weed told Baron she wants “sustainable, long-term structural changes, not simple quick fixes” for the local plans. Also interesting – she expressed some support for the idea of the state appropriating $2 million to boost pension benefits in Central Falls, which have been cut up to 55% since the city’s August bankruptcy filing.
By John Marion
Common Cause’s founder John Gardner once said, “Everybody’s organized but the people. Now it’s the citizens’ turn.” We have followed that mandate for the last four decades in an effort to serve the public’s interest. One of the key principles we promote is transparency in government, and that’s what Ted asked me to write a little bit about today.
If you’ve followed Ted’s pension reform coverage, then you should appreciate the important relationship between good journalism and transparency in government. Whether it’s public records and open meetings or campaign finance and lobbyist disclosures, some of the biggest beneficiaries of transparency are members of the media.
Now, I don’t think John Gardner founded Common Cause to help the media do its job. But we can’t all follow the behavior of public officials and public bodies, so we rely on the media – as well as groups like Common Cause – to do that on our behalf. And when reporters need to find out what the government is doing, they rely on the reforms we advocate for every day.
By Patrick Laverty
If there is one point that Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee tries to get across in an interview, it’s that he’s just looking for fairness. It’s an issue that he’s been trying to get across to the General Assembly for some time now. We’ve heard in recent years about the fair-funding formulas for our cities and towns, but a major problem exists: the towns have differing reimbursement rates. And McKee feels those rates are not “fair.”
In 1998, the General Assembly passed a law that would phase out the motor vehicle excise tax over seven years, meaning Rhode Islanders would no longer be paying taxes on automobiles by 2005.
In 2002, the economy was turned upside down and the Assembly extended the length of the phase-out. A few years later, it was suspended indefinitely. Since then, most of us have felt the pain of more recent legislation that cut the exemption in many towns from $6,000 to $500.
That cut in the minimum exemption means fewer dollars for cities and towns, because they “are paid by the state for the lost taxes due to the exemptions” [pdf]. When state officials reduced the amount they will pay the cities and towns, the municipalities lost a great deal of revenue.
Why did the General Assembly do this? The answer is simple and has never been denied: to balance the state budget.
As much as some may disagree with balancing the state’s budget using local money, let’s deem that acceptable for now. But are the towns even being reimbursed fairly and equally? When you look at the numbers, it would appear not.
Though there are a lot of great Christmas songs, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” remains my favorite. Like other classics of the genre – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” to name two – the song has a yearning quality, which may have to do with its having been written during World War II.
Bing Crosby’s original recording of the song is the best-selling single of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it’s still played regularly on the radio and in the malls. Massachusetts’ own Roy Harris had a nice essay about that in The Wall Street Journal a few years ago.
To my mind, though, Crosby’s best version of “White Christmas” isn’t the famous one with the orchestra – it’s the simple, stripped-down rendition he sings at the beginning of the 1954 movie of the same name. Thanks to YouTube, you can decide for yourself:
A safe and happy holiday to you and yours.
This post was first published in 2010.
After a surprisingly acrimonious public debate over the holiday rarely matching its spirit, Christmas Eve has finally arrived in Rhode Island. Simon Jenkins, the veteran British journalist who now writes for The Guardian, has offered a wonderful reflection on why the annual Yuletide celebration retains its power in our cynical age – all the more powerful considering Jenkins himself is an unapologetic atheist. Here’s how he begins:
God has blessings, even for atheists. Chief among them is the British Christmas. Cleared of its commercial and religious clutter it has become the nation’s collective version of a Buddhist sabbatical, an increasingly extended retreat into family and self almost devoid of externalities. It is a time when Britons behave quite unlike they do for the rest of the year. In other words, they behave quite well. …
Suddenly all goes quiet. Britain now stretches what in the US is one day off into 10. There seems nothing else to do. The volume of public life is silenced. Family is acknowledged before colleagues and friends. Duty is paid to household gods in an annual census of filial piety. Family quarrels are supposedly suppressed, while children and old people acquire a brief moment in the spotlight. We know of the strains and stresses of Christmas, but I wonder how many families have been repaired and rescued through its ritual kindnesses. What if there were no such moment?
Yuletide pro tip: If you click the little snowflake button along the bottom control bar, you can watch us discuss redistricting and ProCAP amid some peaceful falling snow:
By David Segal
The Geeks are ascendant in the halls of Capitol Hill. After a decade or two of know-nothing dominance of political dialogue, people who, you know, know things, are finally having their piece. During a hearing last week on the far-reaching, technically complex Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Congressman Jason Chaffetz admonished his colleagues to “bring the nerds in and get this right.”
The grassroots activist group Demand Progress – which I helped start about a year ago and has since grown to nearly a million members – has helped lead the fight against SOPA, moving hundreds of thousands of constituent contacts to Congress, organizing activists and techies to fight the bill, and meeting with legislators and folks in the White House to express our members’ concerns.
SOPA would give the government new powers to shut down websites that are accused of facilitating copyright infringement. All of the Web’s best sites – especially the social networks that rely on user-generated content and make the Web fun and politically relevant – could fall victim to such claims.