Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The State of the State

While I continue to pore through source material about the history of Rhode Island's border disputes, Governor Donald Carcieri has made his annual State of the State address to the Rhode Island General Assembly. The Governor's mood was upbeat, and his outlook was positive, but he challenged the state legislature to do more, especially when it comes to controlling the skyrocketing cost of benefits for state workers, state entitlement programs, and fixing the state's dismal urban school districts.

Our Republican Governor also touched on something that our overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature doesn't want to hear, namely, how reducing Rhode Island's tax burden has created an upswing in the state's finances, and challenged the Legislature to reduce spending and balance the budget to keep our economic climate friendly to business growth and create an environment for attracting more jobs to the Ocean State.

Somewhat suprisingly, the Governor touched on environmental issues a number of times, setting a goal for 20% of Rhode Island's energy needs to come from renewable sources by 2011 (good luck with that, Don) and proposing an $85,000,000 bond issue to continue to cleanup of Narragansett Bay. A Governor getting touchy feely about mother earth? Sure, especially when it's good business (tourism is our second leading industry, after all).

Lastly, the Governor threw down the gauntlet on Rhode Island's troubled urban school districts, demanding financial discipline and laying down the gauntlet on English immersion versus bilingual education, saying:
"For nearly all of us, our fathers, grandfathers or great grandfathers came to Rhode Island as immigrants. But they came here legally - seeking work and a better life. And they became citizens! They learned English! That's the way it should be!"
I can dig it, Governor. Here's looking forward to a prosperous, and successful, 2007.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The border is ... where?

In an earlier conversation with Lefty over at A View From Battleship Cove, we discussed the fateful day in the nineteenth century where sections of modern day Fall River north of Tiverton, RI were ceded to Massachusetts from Rhode Island in exchange for land that eventually formed present day East Providence, as well as the city of Pawtucket east of the Blackstone River. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, there may not be another state in the union that has had to define and defend its borders as much as Rhode Island. In fact, the entire history of the state (including the present day) has been one of border disputes with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even New York. This is the first part in what I hope will become a series getting to the bottom of Rhode Island's messy territorial disputes with her neighbors. While Lefty handles it from the Massachusetts side, I'll be taking a look from the Rhode Island side.

Let's start from the beginning.

In 1638, Roger Williams finalized the deed honoring the purchase of the Providence Plantations from the Narragansett sachems. By 1642, Williams' original purchases were merged with the newly founded Warwick settlement, and the towns of Portsmouth and Newport on Aquidneck island ("Rhode Island") to create a charter colony uniting the four towns, thereby creating a union between Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations.

By 1643, neighboring the neighboring Plymouth Colony, already annoyed by Williams' perceived assault on the right of Puritans to establish a theocracy, begin staking a claim to land in the nascent Rhode Island and Providence Plantations colony. To prevent ceding his gains to the Puritan colony, Roger Williams hastily sailed to England, secured a land patent from the English parliament in 1644 to preserve the union of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Williams' accomplishment, secured with Parliament during the English Civil War, was secured again after the Stuart Restoration of 1660, whereupon Williams' "lively experiment" with religious tolerance in New England was set on firm legal ground with a new royal charter that set the tiny colony on an equal footing with other British colonies in North America.

After 1660, settlement in the remainder of the Providence Plantations west of Narragansett Bay expanded, and neighboring colonies began to engage Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in a series of continual border disputes, with Connecticut on the west, and Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies on the north and east.

I'm going to hit the books and the web to see where the first important territorial disputes where handled, what land they involved, and how the disputes were settled (and in whose favor) for my next update on this. As always, anyone with any information they'd like to add should just leave me a comment.

UPDATE: Dictators Of The World has more updates than you can shake a kangaroo court at!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ray Patriarca and the Rhode Island mob

Forget The Sopranos and forget New Jersey - Rhode Island is, without doubt, America's La Cosa Nostra state.

The Providence Journal (registration required) has begun an excellent special report called "The State of the Mob", examining Rhode Island's infamous mafia past, present and future. If you want to know how Raymond Patriarca Sr. (seen above in mugshot) went from being a small time hood on Federal Hill to ruling Providence as one of America's most dangerous and well known mob bosses, this is definitely required reading.

Friday, January 26, 2007

St. Rose of Lima School: Sit down, and shut up.

The St. Rose of Lima School in Warwick has taken the never ending battle in ensure student safety to absurd, if logical, lengths. From now on, students are forbidden to talk during lunch as a safeguard against choking.

I thought we had a safeguard against choking already, but hey, I'm not an overprotective parent or teacher, now am I? When I grew up, not only were children allowed to talk during lunch, but we were also allowed to ride bicycles without wearing helmets, play contact sports without bulletproof vests, and even use the toilet without parental supervision.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Politicians for sale? Here? AGAIN?

Yeah, our state legislators have been caught trading clout for cash. Again. Try not to be so surprised.

This time, the offender was none other than State Senate President Joseph Montalbano. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has decided that there is cause to pursue eight charges of "knowing and willful ethics violations" against the Democrat from North Providence, ranging from fraudulent financial disclosures, failing to file paperwork documenting a conflict of interest, and participating in votes where he clearly had an undisclosed conflict of interest with a party that stood to gain from his vote - to say nothing of benefiting from his considerable political influence.

Montalbano does not deny the essence of the charges. He admits to collecting nearly $90,000 from the town of West Warwick for legal services assisting the town clear land for the proposed Narragansett Indian casino. He also admits that he failed to disclose this income as required by state ethics laws.

Then, while still collecting money from the town, he failed to disclose his conflict of interest while serving on the State Senate's "Committee on Constitutional and Gaming Issues", where he passed a bill to put a put the casino question on the 2006 ballot to the full Senate for a vote. Naturally, once the bill made it to the Senate, he voted in favor it as well - failing all the while to disclose his financial conflict of interest that would have shown his financial stake in the outcome.

Montalbano's lawyer, Max Wistow, says his client's failure to file financial disclosure papers was "inadvertent", and denies that his client will make a deal. However, things apparently got testy, and Wistow was heard shouting at the ethics commissioners through closed doors - an action that drew a rebuke from Ethics Commission chairman James Lynch, who told Wistow that "I hope when you come back you have a better attitude. You have been discourteous to the members of this commission - especially me."

Montalbano's egregious influence peddling is news to snooze by in Rhode Island, accustomed as we are to public corruption. The only state institution that we really trust is the Rhode Island State Police. So even when a leader with as much influence as Montalbano gets busted, we're outraged for a minute before re-electing him into perpetuity. Even if the ethics charges lead to criminal proceedings, it's a safe bet that an influential Democratic incumbent will be re-elected until he's old and grey unless he goes to jail.

So is the solution to pay our state lawmakers more money? At present, Rhode Island's part time legislators are the third worst paid lawmakers in the nation, which definitely provides temptation to sell their political influence. Or how about putting some teeth into state ethics laws? Or telling our State Attorney Generals to get serious about pursuing political corruption before they decide to run for the US Senate? My answer is "all of the above", but I'm certainly open to any other ideas.

UPDATE: No discussion of political corruption would be complete without my mentioning that Dictators of the World has been lovingly, nay, decadently, updated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wal-Mart builds first store in Providence

A store in Providence that sells stuff people can afford? We definitely can't have that.

This isn't the first Wal-Mart in Rhode Island, mind you, just the first store in Providence. For what it's worth, I'm all for it. The new Wal-Mart on Silver Spring Street replaces a defunct Ames that had been abandoned for years, but apparently, a derelict hulk collecting graffiti in the heart of the 'hood is preferable to a Wal-Mart for some people. True, the 350 jobs created by the new Wal-Mart mostly suck, but to prefer no jobs to non-union jobs? Even in blue state, union controlled Rhode Island, this strikes most sensible people as being completely ridiculous. Thankfully, not everyone gets worked up into a frenzy over the Big Blue Boxes from Bentonville.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline thinks it's a fine thing indeed, and was on hand at the opening ceremony. The Mayor may not shop at Wal-Mart (most wealthy people don't), but he was pleased to any new economic activity in the North End, which has lagged behind downtown and the East Side economically. I couldn't agree more.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How do you say "enough already" in Portuguese?

It appears that we're overdue for a reality check.

I've already blogged about the brewing brouhaha regarding the potential closure of two Portuguese consulates in Southeastern New England. You may recall that I declined to offer much of an opinion on the subject since the matter doesn't really affect me one way or another.

I've changed my tune following a rally held yesterday at Kennedy Plaza in Providence to protest the closures. The Providence Journal has the story here, but I'll go ahead and vent my spleen for a bit anyway by getting to some of the more outlandishly stupid comments that were made at this rally.

Let's get the ball rolling by highlighting a statement made by a man who's a veritable fountainhead of stupid statements, Congressman Patrick "Patches" Kennedy, who breathlessly told the crowd:
"This consulate is so important because the people of Rhode Island are proud of their heritage, and the people of Rhode Island want to stay in touch with their families in Portugal. That is why we are here today.”
Rhode Island certainly has a large number of Portuguese Americans, a great number of whom are third (or higher) generation families who don't need consular services from the Portuguese government whatsoever because they're American. What's more, foreign consulates don't play much of a role in helping Americans stay in touch with the families in Portugal. As Portugal has long since been a European Union member state, all Americans visiting Portugal are issued a 90 day travel visa upon entry to Portugal. That's it. This covers the vast majority of vacation and business travel between the United States and Europe right off the bat, and doesn't require a moment of consular service.

You need a consulate to contact people in Portugal? Have we forgotten how to use the goddamned telephone? I'll grant you that, perhaps, once upon a time in the old country, the Portuguese had to resort to pinning letters on goats and send them village to village to stay in touch, or resort to launching a golden age of discovery, or even rely on telling their unfortunate slaves to deliver messages. That's not the case now, and we all know it.

The next groaner comes from Gloria Chaves of East Providence who reportedly held up a sign saying "if the consul is closed, the Portuguese will be forgotten"

Bitch, please. If the Providence and/or New Bedford, MA consulates are closed, it means people from Rhode Island may, god forbid, have to travel 45 minutes each way to Boston to visit a Portuguese consulate. Period. The Portuguese are even keeping their consulate in Waterbury, CT open for chrissakes! Does this stupid woman seriously believe for a moment that if they close the Portuguese consulate, non-Portuguese people in Rhode Island will be scratching their heads and ask "What-u-geese? Who?"

By contrast, other ethnic groups in Rhode Island have not turned out en masse to complain that a lack of convenient consular services has destroyed their ethnic identity. Italian Americans are still the largest ethnic group in Rhode Island - one in every five Rhode Islanders is an Italian American. Oh God, it appears that they actually have to travel to Boston or New York to visit an Italian consulate! Funny, though - we haven't seen Italians taking to the streets bitching and moaning about this, have we? Indeed we have not. A cynic might conclude that the Portuguese have much to learn about how to handle life's minor disappointments from their Italian friends and neighbors.

Does it get worse? Oh, indeed. Next up, John Marques of Central Falls who moaned, "if they close this [the consulate], we will lose our connection to home".

According to the Journal article, Marques immigrated to the United States from Portugal 37 goddamned years ago. 37 years! Look, John: after 37 years, America is your home. If you had any doubts about where home is, you should have settled them since the Nixon administration.

The article goes on to describe the crowd chanting "
a people united will never be defeated" in Portuguese, while waving Portuguese flags, and generally bitching and moaning, but nobody quoted in the article seems to ask, for a second, why the Portuguese government - who have 14 consulates in the United States - really need four within driving distance of one another. This goes especially for most Portuguese Americans who are not, and who have never been, citizens of Portugal, and don't pay a dime in Portuguese taxes. Shouldn't this issue be left to the duly elected representative government of Portugal? Secretary of State Ralph Mollis didn't think about it either, and put this cherry on the shit sundae of stupidity:
"We have to question the government’s decision to close the consulate in the state with the highest concentration of Portuguese-Americans"
We do? Who you calling we, white man? Why do we need to question a rather logical cost saving decision by a foreign government that will, at worst, mildly inconvenience people in this country?

It's an encouraging sign that people in this country have so few legitimate grievances that we can take the streets and make such an enormous stink about such incredibly trivial matters, but Jesus people, you're embarrassing me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Politicians for sale? Here?

I know what you're thinking: corrupt politicians? Here in Rhode Island? You're kidding me!

In all seriousness, the heat over former State Senator John Celona's blatant influence peddling has now spilled over to his clients. To wit, a certain gigantic pharmacy chain headquartered in Woonsocket has drawn the attention of the US Attorney's office in Providence who issued an indictment against two of the company's executives, charging them with bribery and conspiracy. The Providence Journal (registration still tediously required) has the full story right here.

On a different note, I've managed to update Dictators of the World. Hurry up and read it before the secret police haul you away.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Portuguese consulates to close?

The Portuguese government has announced that it intends to close their consulates in Southeastern New England - a move that has generated a surprising amount of controversy. The consulates, located in Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts serve an unknown number of Portuguese citizens in New England, plus an even greater number of Luso-Americans. How many? I can't speak for Massachusetts (although I'm guessing it's enormous), but there are over 100,000 in Rhode Island alone. Quite a large number for a state with a population of only 1.2 million.

Since I'm not Portuguese, I don't really care all that much about this tempest in a teapot, but our congressmen are tripping all over themselves to lobby the Portuguese government to keep the consulates open. Rhode Island Congressman Patrick "Patches" Kennedy has joined Senators Jack "The Invisible Man" Reed and newly elected Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in lobbying the Prime Minister of Portugal to keep their Providence consulate open. Providence mayor David Cicilline has joined the efforts to lobby the Portuguese government as well.

For their part, the Portuguese estimate that closing the two consulates will save their cash strapped government nearly $4 million dollars. A proposal by American politicians to open a replacement consulate in Fall River, Massachusetts (located halfway between Providence and New Bedford) will likely fall on deaf ears as well.

UPDATE: Lest I forget, Dictators of the World has been updated with the latest dirt on Fidel Castro.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The ACLU vs. The Man

Who's got it right when it comes to the issue of enforcing immigration laws, the Rhode Island State Police, or the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union?

Back on July 11, 2006, trooper Thomas Chabot pulled over a van containing 15 (!) illegal immigrants from Guatemala on route 95 in Richmond for failing to use a turn signal during a lane change. After running the driver's license and registration, the trooper asked the passengers to produce some identification. When some of the passengers were unable to do so, the trooper then demanded the passengers produce "documents" proving their eligibility to live and work in the United States.

When the passengers were, obviously, unable to comply, trooper Chabot called for backup and informed the driver that the the State Police would be escorting him, and all of his passengers, to the federal Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Providence. Duly escorted, the 15 Guatemalans were admitted for processing by la migra.

Enter the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed a lawsuit alleging the State Police engaged in illegal racial profiling and violated the fourth amendment rights of the Guatemalans by submitting them to "unreasonable search and seizure". Naturally, the ACLU is filing a lawsuit seeking compensatory damages against the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, State Police Colonel Steven Paré, trooper Chabot and a trooper named as "Jane Doe" (the trooper Chabot called for backup, whose identity the ACLU has been unable to identify).

Let's forget about the folly of suing someone you can't even identify for damages for a moment and move onto the larger issue: do state and local police have the authority to detain people for violating federal immigration laws and send them to the feds? The answer is yes, although most state and local law enforcement agencies do not because they are unfamiliar with the intricacies of federal statues. The Rhode Island ACLU, for their part, has not even attempted to dispute the authority of the State Police to forward people suspected of violating immigration laws to the feds, but instead contends that they do so via racial profiling. While granting that constitutional protections are granted to "all inhabitants" of the United States and not just citizens, the State Police contend that they are also entrusted with upholding the law, and provided they know which federal laws they are enforcing, they have the authority (nay, the obligation) to uphold them.

The State Police, who conducted their own internal investigation, dismissed the ACLU's complaints as being without merit, stating that trooper Chabot's actions were handled "professionally and appropriately", so now it remains to be settled in court. For their part, the illegal Guatemalan immigrants are looking at a potential payday from the state before being deported to Guatemala, but will likely remain in Providence until the case goes to court.

Lest I forget, Dictators of the World has been updated for your pleasure.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Four more years

OK, so I may my candidate for the Senate was beaten like a rented mule back in November, but two prominent candidates I voted for were re-elected, and have been sworn in for another term.

Governor Donald Carcieri (pictured above), a Republican, won re-election by a very slender margin against his own Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Charlie Fogarty. Faced with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature, he'll have his work cut out for him trying to wheel and deal with state lawmakers to pass a balanced budget, much less get any of his own political agenda points dealt with. I certainly wish the Governor the best of luck, and invite you to read his inaugural address here.

By contrast, Providence mayor David Cicilline was overwhelmingly re-elected, and seems to enjoy a broad mandate from the city's electorate. The mayor's facing something of an uphill battle as well, as Providence's economic and social ills are nothing to sneeze at, but he's trying to look at the bright side. Waxing Obama-esque about hope and optimism, Cicilline deviated slightly from the Obama formula by not only doling out feel good platitudes, but by offering some specifics on what he would like to do to create "the New Providence".

Now, I like David Cicilline, and he's done a fine job as mayor, but he's got to put his money where his mouth is on the issue of Providence's dismal public schools, and he's going to have continue to battle the public employee unions that make the cost of living and working in Providence so inordinately high, and have helped provide a dismal return on the public's investment. Cicilline's first administration worked on the issue of public safety and restoring the public trust in City Hall as a political institution after the Buddy Cianci years. So far, so good. Now it's time for our diminutive mayor to get cracking on the really hard part of bringing Providence back from the brink of economic and political disaster.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New photos: Woonsocket

It's been too long since I've had any new photos of Rhode Island to share, so I'd like to get 2007 off on the right foot. Let's see if I can make up for it with a gaggle of new photos from lovely, crime-free Woonsocket in the heart of the Blackstone River Valley. As always, these pictures have been gathered on Flickr (viewable here) for your enjoyment.

Update: Well, it's obviously not related to the fine city of Woonsocket, but my Dictators of the World blog has more new content than you can shake an executed Arab strongman at.