A lot of news in the run-up to Christmas; debate over how to reduce school shootings; mediation ordered in the pension case; and the march is on toward our next RI campaign season. Happy holidays to all my readers, and thanks for checking in. Lets get to it.
1. Call it A Tale of Two Institutes. The Institute for International Sport housed at URI was launched with a mission of promoting youth sports; It's unable to account for a lot of taxpayer' money. The Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence has a record of helping to reduce violence in Rhode Island; it was hit by a round of staff cuts that were all the more striking for happening on the same day as Newtown. The nonviolence institute's director, Teny Gross, knows as well as anyone the difficulty of documenting the value of prevention. "Basically, what’s billable is provable, which is ridiculous," he told me when I profiled the institute's efforts in 2003. But as various Rhode Island officials offer new proposals in response to Newtown, they might consider the level of government support for stopping violence before it happens.
2. It's on: President Obama's selection of John Kerry as secretary of state sets in motion another US Sentate race in Massachusetts, giving another opportunity to Republican Scott Brown. As National Journal notes, the field of prospective Democrats ranges from the likes of Ben Affleck and Edward Kennedy Jr. to current Congressmen Michael Capuano, Steve Lynch, and Ed Markey.
3. It's off: George Caruolo will not be the chair of Rhode Island's combined Board of Education.
4. It wasn't all that long ago when three things (crack cocaine; a demographic boom of young men; and the advent of semi-automatic pistols, like the 9mm, in the civillian marke) sparked a huge increase in youth violence (mostly in poor city neighborhoods) from the 1980s into the early 90s. The violence abated for a number of reasons, including the fade of the crack epidemic. But the place of military-style weapons in the civilian market is getting renewed attention after Newtown. Check out this Terry Gross interview with Tom Diaz, an analyst with the Violence Policy Center, for more of the backstory. For starters, Diaz says more people die in the US each year from gun-related incidents than in all global terrorist attacks since the 1960s.
5. Do you know the glass bottles you put in your recycling bin each week wind up getting buried at the Central Landfill. rather than being recycled? RIPR's Bradley Campbell broke the story last summer, and he found that 13,000 TONS of glass have been dumped into the landfill since a change in legislation took effect in June.
6. Don't hold your breath if you expect the Senate to restore legislative oversight by the state Ethics Commission in 2013. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed says Senator James Sheehan continues to work on a "compromise" meant to address her chamber's concern about preserving the "speech in debate" clause for lawmakers. We heard similiar talk this year, and Common Cause of RI calls the intended compromise unworkable .... Btw, Paiva Weed tells me she expects "contract-dispute resolution" legislation (binding arbitration) to be introduced and debated in the new session. The Senate passed a binding arb bill in 2011, but it died in the House amid a public outcry from critics who called it bad for taxpayers.
7. The Phoenix's David Scharfenberg has a must-read this week about the amateurish tendency in Rhode Island politics, and the counter-example set by the likes of Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo. Scharfy acknowledges the uphill battle facing the idea of switching to a full-time legislature; He calls for adding more professional legislative staff as a way of fostering better policy.
8. Speaking of Raimondo, watch for her to step up her advocacy against payday lending in 2013. "I plan to be active in the payday debate," the treasurer tells me. "I think it's about time that we protect Rhode Island families from predatory lending like payday." Raimondo says supporters of cutting the annual percentage rate of up to 260 percent on payday loans can bolster their case by promoting more education on the issue. Former House Speaker William Murphy, a lobbyist for Advance America, was seen by some as a major reason for the death of a payday lending bill this year. "I hope it's different this year," Raimondo says. "It's my job and the job of the members of the General Assembly, all public servants, to represent the interests of all the people in Rhode Island."
9. I'm looking forward to delving into the Boston Globe's "68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope," a series on a year in the life of a poor Boston neighborhood. Old friend Dan Kennedy calls it "a triumph of narrative and digital journalism," adding, "It’s a great example of what a large news organization is able to do if it’s got the resources and is willing to commit them to a long, complex project." The capacity to carry this effort off comes as Brian McGrory, a one-time Globe paperboy, takes over the top job on Morrissey Boulevard. Is there a lesson here for the ProJo?
10. Speaking a bit earlier of Taveras, he has a piece on HuffPo about what heading over the fiscal cliff would mean for Providence. Excerpt: "Perhaps most alarming is the Congressional Budget Office's warning that without a compromise, the national unemployment rate will rise and our economy may slide back into recession. The recovery in Rhode Island and -- with it -- Providence is incredibly and dangerously fragile. Rhode Island has the nation's second highest unemployment rate. Our working and jobseeking families cannot afford to take another hit."
11. Would an all-women Congress fix the fiscal cliff faster?
12. President Obama said of Newtown, "We can't accept events like this as routine." The sad fact, though, is that gun violence is accepted as routine in the poor parts of American cities. I wrote about this disparity in 1999, and the observations hold up, IMHO.
14. What's your favorite holiday movie? Two of our favorites: "It's a Wonderful Life" (of course), and "White Christmas".
15. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus