Monday, February 23, 2015

Prepare for a rebuilding year

As Fenway was unrecognizable under more than 6 feet of snow, the Red Sox opened spring training with a sunny optimism that reflected their Florida weather. No matter that the team has no “ace” on the staff or even a starting rotation that any of the Fenway faithful can name. One of the new players, Pablo Sandoval or “Panda,” is expected to be a force in the lineup but has become better known as the player who hasn’t missed too many meals when he showed up for spring training sporting a big bit of a belly. Regardless of the team’s shortcomings — or oversized players — baseball is almost back and we can all be happy to root for a team that has won three World Series in just a little over a decade — even if no one wants to “bell the cat” and call it a rebuilding year.

Back here in frozen Rhode Island, the business community and political circles have been buzzing since the election about success too. Governor Raimondo has been working closely with legislative leaders, has built a strong cabinet and hired well respected staff from all over the country. Unfortunately her press conference last week reminded everyone that Rhode Island remains in dire straits and that tough days are ahead. The message was simple: we have some serious problems and we need to make some tough decisions to reposition ourselves for success. She led the audience through a powerpoint dose of reality. Our economy is lagging: we are 47th in employment and 48th in short and long term growth. We are not successful at educating future workers: 66% of CCRI students require remediation courses. Our budget deficit is growing and we have high costs in Medicaid (2nd highest spending per enrollee in the country) and fire safety (2nd highest fire safety costs in the country). If this was a State of the State address, the state of Rhode Island would be poor.

With the problems identified, we need to acknowledge that we need to rebuild and do things differently than we’ve done before. If we continue to make the same (bad) choices, we’re going to end up with the same bad results. While a governor in Rhode Island has little power with no line item veto and no ability to put a referendum on the ballot, she can use the budget process and the bully pulpit to drive policy. And while I admit that I am a “homer” I think that what she has identified as our core problems are almost indisputable. Right now we have a leader who has proven that’s she’s willing to be unpopular to be successful and so I fully expect that some of the solutions she proposes will not make everyone happy. Red Sox fans surely remember when the “new owners” traded Nomar Garciaparra on July 31, 2004. Was it heartbreaking? Yes. Did it make the team better? Yes. Did the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004? Hell yes.

Let’s face it — it’s a rebuilding year for the Red Sox and for Rhode Island too. Tough days are ahead but hopefully better years will follow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Playing by the same set of rules

While most Rhode Islanders don’t deal with debilitating traffic on a daily basis almost everyone can remember an epic traffic tie-up they sat through at one point or another. When I lived in the D.C. area, I can remember several that were weather related (like a midday snowstorm) or beyond our control (the 9/11 attacks). I was also the victim of the then-infamous “Justice for Janitors” protest on the Roosevelt Bridge. This group sought to get attention for their cause by blocking the morning commute, similar to the act of traffic terrorism committed by the morons in Boston last week. I refuse to share the name of that group since publicity is what they seek but I do think it’s time that those of us who play by the rules push back and remind others that even in protests, there are limits and there should be dire consequences.

Just like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected free speech, impeding rush hour traffic and causing thousands of people to miss appointments, meetings and hourly work should not be protected either. After the incident on the Roosevelt Bridge, it was discovered that under current law each protester could only be fined $50. Several of D.C.s legal minds proposed a class act law suit noting that even if the protesters could not be held criminally, a civil suit could hurt their pocketbooks and hopefully provide enough of a deterrent to prevent further acts of traffic terrorism.

And make no mistake: these are acts of terrorism as lives were at risk. How many people do you think missed a doctor’s appointment? How many people were late to treatment at Dana Farber? One man who had been in an accident was diverted from a trauma center in Boston because the EMTs were worried he would die in traffic. Thankfully he survived, but how sad is it that some people in our society think that their cause “matters” more than the life of someone’s grandfather?

Although I am generally appalled by the high number of useless bills on the General Assembly calendar, I do hope that a legislator in Rhode Island introduces one that addresses this kind of domestic terrorism.  Committing an act of traffic terrorism is the equivalent of taking hostages. Note that the morons in Boston had every intention of shutting Boston down: some of them were wearing diapers in anticipation of a long sit down. I’d start with mandatory jail time for an act of traffic terrorism and make sure that the fine is hefty too. The Boston brainiacs slunk home to their mother’s basements in Brookline and Jamaica Plain when a week in jail and losing their allowance may have been a better way to teach them to play by the rules.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A career-altering error

When I look at the deep snow outside my window, it’s hard to imagine that baseball will be back in New England in just six short weeks, but I really can’t wait. The 2015 season is going to be an interesting one for local fans whether they root for the Red Sox or the Yankees. Both teams had a “rebuilding” year in 2014 but the Yankees also bid farewell to Derek Jeter, one of their most popular players of all time. Their anti-Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, will be back this year and it remains to be seen whether fans — or anyone else — will forgive him for cheating by taking performance-enhancing drugs and then lying about it.

We’ll be having another conversation about forgiveness six months from now when Brian Williams may once again appear behind the NBC News anchor desk. As you may have read, it appears that Williams embellished his reporting from the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina by fabricated facts and details. In an era when the “news” is about entertainment as much as information, perhaps this should come as no surprise but national network news is not supposed to be “soft” like the Today Show or have the partisan political viewpoint of The National Review or The New Republic. Even more distressing is that the scenes that were embellished were dramatic to begin with: post-Katrina New Orleans and the war in Iraq provided more than enough peril to report.

I deal with members of the media regularly and in general I find that they are very serious about their jobs and are passionate about the integrity of their work. While most of them know what they want to write before they’ve gathered the facts — i.e. they’ve already got their “angle” —I’ve not encountered a reporter who altered the facts to make a story more interesting. If anything, most reporters take a step back when something is “juicy.” I think the Brian Williams saga is even more distressing because he made it about him: his helicopter was damaged, he saw a body — he made himself the star of the story and a good reporter should never do that.

If this were cast as a baseball game, some might say that Brian Williams made a career-altering error akin to the ball that ran through Bill Buckner’s legs. But the truth is that this isn’t a game and creating a false narrative about a life and death situation is inexcusable. I think Brian Williams’ career as a journalist is over — and it should be.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A good start for a rookie

For as long as Malcolm Butler plays football — and long after in New England — he’ll be known for one catch in the early days of his career.  Just like that cheesy shampoo commercial that used the tagline  “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” Butler rookie year — and perhaps his career — is defined. His interception will take its place next to Dave Roberts’ steal in the “how we won it when we almost lost it” file of wicked awesome plays here in New England.

That first impression matters even more in politics than sports. Dustin Pedroia bounced back rather nicely from the rough start he had his rookie season (even though we all still remember his .172 batting average through April of that year) but politicians are so often measured by a less than stellar performance early on in their terms. I’ll go on record as predicting a rough term for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

I know I have a bit of a bias, but I was truly impressed with how Governor Raimondo handled the blizzard known as Juno. From the constant communication with the public, to a well coordinated effort among cabinet members, her handling of the storm met every expectation I had from seeing how previous governors handled storm preparation and aftermath. But like Malcolm Butler — whose real job is to break up plays, not intercept winning touchdowns — Governor Raimondo went above and beyond to do two things that I’d not seen state leadership do before: coordinate seamlessly with our bordering states and provide regular communications specifically to the business community. For those of us who have long believed that governing is “women’s work” it was especially gratifying to see our first female governor excel in this part of her role.

While the average career of an NFL cornerback is a little under 3 years, elected officials are around far longer. Malcolm Butler may have just had the highlight of his career, but I think we can expect Governor Raimondo to exceed expectations far into the future.