wall street journal

Wall Street Journal editorial praises ‘Chafee’s graceful exit’

September 5th, 2013 at 9:50 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page – and particularly Allysia Finley, one of its writers, who keeps an eye on Rhode Island – hasn’t always been a big fan of Lincoln Chafee. But Finley paid Chafee a compliment, if a somewhat backhanded one, in a new editorial about his decision not to run next year:

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s announcement Wednesday that he would not seek re-election next year exhibited his hallmark pragmatism: With an approval rating stuck in the mid 20s, he faced a bruising primary against two well-funded, popular Democrats. Yet by hanging up his hat, he also evinced a modicum of humility and self-awareness that’s become all too rare in politics. …

It took some courage for the governor to admit that election politics were impeding his focus and judgement, and likely even more so to admit to himself that he stood little chance of winning. Other governors in similar binds (e.g., Illinois’s Pat Quinn) ought to take note.

Read the rest here.

• Related: Analysis: Chafee scrambles the 2014 campaign – once again (Sept. 4)

Gina Raimondo is the WSJ editorial board’s kind of Democrat

September 4th, 2012 at 1:15 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

From this morning’s Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Here and there in the hinterlands, you can see a glimpse of new Democratic thinking. Gloria Romero in California wants to reduce the power of teachers unions, and treasurer Gina Raimondo dared to rein in public pension benefits in Rhode Island.

Unmentioned by the WSJ is that the Rhode Island politician who’s speaking tonight at the convention in support of Obama – independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee – actually signed the pension law Raimondo pushed through.

Separately, RIPR’s Ian Donnis flags the head of a right-leaning Kentucky think tank lauding Raimondo at length – and closing his praise with this questionable assertion:

So what do Rhode Islanders think of Raimondo’s efforts to bring some common sense to their state’s out-of-control pension system?

Apparently, they like it.

Raimondo is raising huge amounts of cash as she campaigns for reelection. Sometimes doing the right thing is politically difficult, but rewarding none the less.

Raimondo is undoubtedly popular – her approval rating was 56% in the February WPRI 12 poll – but her fundraising prowess probably says less about her backing among the general electorate and more about her appeal to well-heeled financial types. Her predecessor Frank Caprio raised millions but came in third when he ran for governor, after all.

NPR credits WSJ for Jack White’s Pulitzer-winning Nixon scoop

August 1st, 2012 at 5:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

NPR slighted a legendary Rhode Island journalist this week.

Appearing on “Morning Edition” Monday to promote his new book, Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel had this exchange with host Renee Montagne (emphasis mine):

MONTAGNE: In your book, you write about a prominent Republican politician who made headlines for the taxes he did not pay on his wealth, and that would be Richard Nixon, 1973. Tell us that story.

WESSEL: It’s an amazing story that I had no knowledge of until I started working on the book. Richard Nixon, who did not have to disclose his tax returns as a candidate was embarrassed when his tax returns were leaked, and there were stories actually in the Wall Street Journal that revealed that in 1970, 1971, and 1972, he had total income of nearly $800,000 and he had just paid $5,000 in combined federal income taxes. And that turned out to be a huge scandal at the time.

A lot of focus on this, and in fact, it was that report that led Richard Nixon to utter his famous words: I am not a crook. What followed that was: I’ve earned everything I got. That was a response to questions from newspaper reporters and editors about his tax returns, and in the end he had to pay a lot of back taxes. But that’s kind of lost to history because the Watergate scandal obscured it.

Say what?

As just about anybody in the Rhode Island press corps could tell NPR, Nixon’s taxes were actually uncovered and “revealed” in The Providence Journal by the late Jack White, who founded the paper’s investigative unit and later had an Emmy-winning career here at WPRI 12. (He’s also the father of my colleague Tim White.)

Don’t take my word for it – take the Pulitzer Prize committee’s, which awarded White a Pulitzer on May 6, 1974, in honor of “his initiative in exclusively disclosing President Nixon’s Federal income tax payments in 1970 and 1971″ (emphasis mine). Jack even held his bombshell story while Projo reporters were on strike, praying the whole time that a big paper – like, say, The Wall Street Journal – wouldn’t scoop him.

This isn’t the first time Jack White and the Projo have gotten snubbed in the national press over the Nixon tax story. In 2005, the AP was forced to run a clarification after wrongly giving a different journalist credit for getting Nixon to say “I’m not a crook” in response to the story. (It was Projo editor Joseph Ungaro.)

Wessel didn’t reply to a tweet asking why he attributed the Nixon story to his paper. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but big papers like The Wall Street Journal get enough glory without taking credit from enterprising journalists at the state and local level.

Update: Wessel just tweeted a link to this post to his nearly 30,000 followers and commented: “I stand corrected.” Read his Capital column or “Red Ink” to show your appreciation.

• Related: Jack and Tim White’s 35-year project unlocks Bonded Vault (Dec. 19, 2010)

(photo: WPRI 12)

WSJ publishes love letter to Raimondo in Saturday newspaper

March 24th, 2012 at 4:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

It seems safe to say the financial press has a bit of a crush on Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

Fresh off her CNBC appearance Friday morning, Raimondo is the subject of The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview feature on Saturday. The headline (stop me if you’ve heard this one): “The Democrat Who Took on the Unions.”

WSJ assistant opinion editor Allysia Finley, who wrote about Central Falls last year, wrote the 1,600-word profile, which pours on the Raimondomania pretty thick. “So this is Gina Raimondo?” Finley asks at the start. “The state treasurer who single-handedly overhauled Rhode Island’s pension system and has unions screaming bloody murder? I had imagined her a bit, well, bigger.”

The only discordant note is sounded by Paul Valletta of the Cranston firefighters union, who gets two sentences to dismiss last year’s pension overhaul as “just a steppingstone for her to run for higher office.”

“Ms. Raimondo poses a greater threat to the labor movement than any Republican, because she undercuts its narrative that pension reform is merely a cause célèbre for conservatives who want to stick it to unions” – which, of course, is part of why she’s now the subject of a 1,600-word profile on the WSJ’s editorial page.

One glaring omission in the story is the municipal pension crisis, which is as bad as ever. Raimondo maintains that the situation with the 36 locally run plans is too messy to have been addressed in last November’s law, but it’s fair to say Governor Chafee, Mayor Taveras and others think that was a huge missed opportunity.

• Related: Raimondo opposes Chafee move to cut pension-fund deposits (March 21)

WSJ editorial lumps Providence financial crisis in with Detroit’s

March 15th, 2012 at 9:46 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Not all publicity is good publicity:

The clock’s running out on Detroit. City leaders are up against a $200 million deficit driven by exploding labor costs and may not be able to pay the bills come May. The state of Michigan has just swept in with a deux ex machina. Trouble is, city pols don’t like the strings attached.  …

Similar fiscal crises are playing out in cities across the country from Stockton, California, to Providence, Rhode Island. Maybe if a big city like Detroit fails, more politicians would start caring.

Alas, this could counteract the positive press Rhode Island got about the pension law from the same writers.

East Greenwich chocolatier Frankie’s gets some love in WSJ

February 14th, 2012 at 12:59 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

It’s Valentine’s Day, so The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Passy decided to take a look at interesting spins on the classic box of sweets – and lo and behold, one of the highlights is East Greenwich’s own Frankie’s Fruit and Chocolate:

Chocolate for fruit lovers: Okay, no one is pretending that combining fruit and chocolate is a good way to get one or two of those requisite five daily servings in your diet. But we have to say that Frankie’s Fruit and Chocolate, a Rhode Island chocolatier, makes it a tempting thought. That’s because they add just the right fruits in the right combinations – say, coconut, pineapple and banana – to give their “circles” and “crisps” (essentially, chocolate bars in something other than bar form) a smart sweetness. Chocolate-dipped fruits – apricots, mango slices, etc. – are also on the menu.

The Journal’s Gail Ciampa also took a look at Rhode Island’s best chocolatiers, including Frankie’s, last week.

By the way, male Nesi’s Notes readers, this post will serve as your official reminder that the date is indeed Feb. 14, the significance of which I’ll outsource to President Obama (via Politico):

“Let me start with a quick public service announcement to all the gentlemen out there: today is Valentine’s Day. Do not forget,” Obama said during remarks Tuesday. “I speak from experience here. It is important that you remember this.”

“And go big. That’s my advice,” the president added.

WSJ details RI con man’s role in $500M federal Google sting

January 26th, 2012 at 11:15 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Fascinating story with a Rhode Island angle in The Wall Street Journal:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Wearing leg irons and guarded by federal agents, David Whitaker posed as an agent for online drug dealers in dozens of recorded phone calls and email exchanges with Google sales executives, spending $200,000 in government money for ads selling narcotics, steroids and other controlled substances.

Over four months in 2009, Mr. Whitaker, a federal prisoner and convicted con artist, was the lead actor in a government sting targeting Google Inc. that yielded one of the largest business forfeitures in U.S. history.

“There was a part of me that felt bad,” Mr. Whitaker wrote in his account of the undercover operation viewed by The Wall Street Journal. “I had grown to like these people.” But, he said, “I took ease in knowing they … knew it was wrong.”

The government built its criminal case against Google using money, aliases and fake companies—tactics often used against drug cartels and other crime syndicates, according to interviews and court documents. Google agreed to pay a $500 million forfeiture last summer in a settlement to avoid prosecution for aiding illegal online pharmaceutical sales.

Read the rest here. Thanks to reader DB for flagging it. The Projo wrote about Whitaker back in 2008.

WSJ editorial board extols Raimondo for ‘Rhode Island Miracle’

January 5th, 2012 at 11:01 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s trip to New York City this week yielded more than just an award from the Manhattan Institute.

The Wall Street Journal’s influential editorial page – which already lavished praise on the new pension law the day after Thanksgiving – ballyhoos the effort once again in Friday’s paper with a piece entitled “Rhode Island Miracle Explained.” The subhed says, “How a liberal state reformed its pensions.”

Here’s a taste:

Good news in politics is rare these days, but an event that qualifies is the liberal state of Rhode Island’s recent landmark pension reform. Gina Raimondo, the state treasurer who led the effort, visited the Manhattan Institute yesterday to explain the miracle, and it turns out she didn’t need heavenly powers, only political nerve and good judgment. …

Ms. Raimondo said those solutions had to be discussed openly. Rhode Island’s reform process was so transparent that even when a draft bill to implement the changes leaked to the press before its formal introduction, it was essentially a nonstory because the reforms had already been discussed publicly.

And voila, real change and hope. We recommend a multistate road show for Ms. Raimondo, starting with New York, California and Illinois.

You can read the whole editorial here.

WSJ looks at how Angry Birds is hurting Pawtucket’s Hasbro

December 17th, 2011 at 2:04 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Hasbro won glowing praise from the business press for its movie-focused strategy back in March 2010, when Barron’s Magazine declared: “This isn’t your father’s Hasbro.” It was a proud moment for the 88-year-old Rhode Island company, which is No. 21 on the EDC’s list of the state’s largest employers (and No. 12 among businesses).

Less than two years later, Barron’s sister publication The Wall Street Journal is singing a different tune. In a story on the front page of its Marketplace section Thursday – headlined “Hasbro Falls Prey to ‘Angry Birds’” – reporter Ann Zimmerman explains why investors are concerned about the Pawtucket-based company


WSJ: ‘In Rhode Island, liberals take the lead on pension reform’

November 24th, 2011 at 8:28 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Once Governor Chafee signed the pension overhaul into law last Friday, it was only a matter of time before The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page published a piece ballyhooing the first-in-the-nation measure.

Turns out we didn’t have to wait long. The Review & Outlook section of Friday’s WSJ carries an unsigned editorial beneath an astonished-sounding headline (“A Democrat Bites Union Story”) with the subhead, “In Rhode Island, liberals take the lead on pension reform.”

“Rhode Island was founded by dissidents espousing freedom of conscience,” the editorial begins, “so perhaps it’s fitting that the state’s Democrats have bucked their labor allies and passed the most significant pension reform of the last decade.”

Here are the parts that will likely make other parts of the country take notice:

These reforms are far more comprehensive than those adopted or proposed in other states. …

[N]one have gone as far as Rhode Island and frozen benefits for current workers and shifted them to new plans. This is the most sustainable route, even if it may present legal challenges ….

Here’s the stunner: Unions denounced the reforms as radical and threatened to file suit, but 77 of the state’s 94 Democratic lawmakers still voted last week for the legislation with only minor amendments. Both Mr. Chafee and Ms. Raimondo deserve credit for explaining and defending the reforms to the public, which put pressure on lawmakers to go along.

Yes, America, there are courageous Democratic reformers.

To my knowledge, the WSJ is the first national editorial board to take notice of Rhode Island’s pension changes. There’s also been little reaction from intellectuals of other ideological stripes – the NYT editorial board, Matt Yglesias, Felix Salmon – and it would be interesting to hear what they think.

(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

Whoops: WSJ labels Chafee ‘the Democratic governor of RI’

September 23rd, 2011 at 2:24 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Lincoln Chafee says he hasn’t made up his mind about whether to join the Democratic Party before the 2014 election. But The Wall Street Journal has:

Actually, that would bring the governor full circle. In 2001, then-Republican U.S. Senator Chafee voted for the original version of the No Child Left Behind bill and voted for the final version hammered out by the conference committee.

Today’s visit also again raises the question of whether Chafee will wind up endorsing Obama next year. In April, the governor told me he was undecided because of his concerns about the president’s foreign policy.

WSJ: Cicilline’s $35M ‘green’ loan for city budget ‘skirts laws’

September 9th, 2011 at 2:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Michael Corkery, the former Projo reporter now at The Wall Street Journal, is back in Rhode Island – this time with a skeptical story about that $35 million “green” loan package the Cicilline administration put together to balance Providence’s budget for 2010-11.

The headline: “Cities Deep in Red Plug Holes With Green.” (Get it?) The subhed hits harder: “Financing Strategy Skirts Laws on Using Bonds for Deficits.”

Under the terms of the deal – first reported by WRNI’s Ian Donnis, and backed by both the City Council and new mayor Angel Taveras – the City of Providence gave buildings to the Providence Public Building Authority, then leased them back.

The building authority used the buildings as collateral to borrow $35 million from New York-based Class Green Capital Partners. The city’s rent payments to the building authority will pay off the bonds at a 6.1% interest rate over the next 15 years, Corkery writes.


Fall River fights over Lizzie Borden in the Wall Street Journal

August 15th, 2011 at 3:25 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Foxwoods isn’t the only story with a local angle in this morning’s Wall Street Journal.

The front page of today’s paper features one of its famously quirky A-Heds, datelined Fall River: “Some in Lizzie Borden’s Hometown Think Her Legend Is Out of Whack; Effort to Restore Her Reputation Cleaves History Buffs; No Burying the Hatchet Now.” (Ba-dum-ching!)

Basically, some people now think Lizzie B. was innocent, which has sparked a heated debate. Locals have published at least two massive tomes on the case in recent years, one weighing in at 642 pages and an upcoming one topping it at 995 pages. (There’s a Borden blog, too.) You can read the article here.

Bonus local connection: the story’s author is Jennifer Levitz, the WSJ’s New England regional writer, who was a Providence Journal reporter during the first half of the 2000s. Her husband is another talented scribe and Projo alum, Mark Arsenault, now at The Boston Globe.

(illustration: News Corp.)

Wall Street Journal says ‘Bondholders Win in Rhode Island’

August 4th, 2011 at 11:08 am by under Nesi's Notes

The Wall Street Journal has an eye-opening story in today’s paper about Rhode Island’s new law protecting investors from losing money when a city or town goes belly up. Central Falls, the paper declares, “is a bondholder’s dream.”

The bankrupt city owes bondholders $635,000 in October, and plans to pay them in full. By contrast, it owes its retirees $296,000 in pension checks next month – but plans to pay them just $196,000, or 34% less.

The Journal goes on to explain the significance of the law, which Governor Chafee signed on July 11 and which was made retroactive to before Central Falls’ receivership:

Municipal-bond lawyers believe Rhode Island’s law is the first of its kind in the U.S. As municipalities in other states grapple with overwhelming pension obligations and debts, similar laws could catch on, partly because they will help even shaky cities and counties keep borrowing money, experts say. …

Under the law, city officials who intentionally fail to pay bondholders can be removed from office or held personally liable for the payments.

One money manager in New York is so bullish on the new law that he told the WSJ his firm wants to buy Central Falls bonds if he can find somebody who wants to sell them. No surprise, then, that Council 94′s J. Michael Downey thinks the law is an outrage. “Wall Street investors are being treated with more dignity than public workers,” he told the paper.

Central Falls’ bankruptcy attorney, Theodore Orson, said in court Wednesday that the pro-bondholder law was enacted because “the capital markets must remain accessible and affordable to our other 38 cities and towns and our states.” He said one of the authors of the municipal bankruptcy code expects the financial sector will lobby the other 49 states to pass their owns laws modeled on Rhode Island’s to protect bondholders.

Update: Not everyone thinks Rhode Island’s law is such a great innovation. Here’s Cate Long, who writes about municipal bonds for Reuters:

The Rhode Island General Assembly’s action flies in the the face of common bond market practice, which is that bondholders get in line with everyone else and a judge overseeing bankruptcy proceedings gives a fair resolution to all the creditors. …

Because a state is asserting privileges beyond current law, this issue could be litigated for a decade. It will probably go before the U.S. Supreme Court and provide lots of billings for the legal profession. But what about the moral issue of denying a retired policeman half of his annual $30,000 pension to pay a bond holder 100 cents on the dollar? Has our country enshrined creditors’ rights at so many levels above pension rights?

(photo: CoinCircuit.com)

Raimondo and the RI pension crisis hit the Wall Street Journal

July 25th, 2011 at 9:12 am by under Nesi's Notes

The Wall Street Journal is out with its long-awaited article on Treasurer Gina Raimondo and her efforts to tackle the pension problem in Rhode Island. The headline: “Softer Approach on Pension Problems; Head of Rhode Island’s Fund Aims to Win Workers’ Support.”

I didn’t see anything in the story that should come as a surprise to those who’ve been following this story, but it is interesting to see Raimondo’s collaborative approach contrasted with those of anti-union warriors in other states like Chris Christie.

“In the private-equity world, everyone thinks: Get rid of pensions,” Raimondo told the paper. “I think there is a way to provide a defined-benefit plan that ultimately provides retirement security, but you are never going to get there if all you have is a polarized political debate. The very word ‘pension’ gets people excited, but this is math.”

The article also says Rhode Island’s pension fund isn’t the most underfunded in the country, at 48% of future liabilities; that honor goes to Illinois, at 45%.

Update: WRNI’s Ian Donnis informs me that the WSJ article’s author, Michael Corkery, is a former Projo reporter. Small world.

Update #2: At right, how the story looks in print.

This is my big worry about the lame economic recovery

June 28th, 2011 at 3:38 pm by under Nesi's Notes

“Debt Hamstrings Recovery.”

That’s the big headline in a Wall Street Journal article this week, and it highlights my nagging fear about the economy – there’s just too much debt out there, particularly on American consumers’ balance sheets, for a robust rebound to take place and bring down the unemployment rate.

An excerpt:

Today, U.S. consumers have more mortgage and credit-card debt than they did five years ago, and the U.S. budget deficit is worsening. At the same time, European governments are having to throw billions more euros at Greece to keep it afloat. …

The fundamental problem is that reversing the trend of piling on the debt requires some combination of cutting spending, growing income or the economy, and inflation. But wage growth is stagnant and home prices, which underpin much of the debt problem, are still falling.

Meanwhile, in a vicious circle, businesses aren’t hiring or investing because they know consumers are tapped out. Banks, for their part, are hoarding cash, being stingy with new loans.

The full article is here. It might also help people understand my pet theory about why the stimulus didn’t kick off an organic recovery – consumer debt is a huge unsolved problem, and the various policies carried out in 2007-09 really didn’t do much to tackle it. That’s bad news for the U.S., and bad news for Rhode Island.