Friday, October 30, 2015

Who wins when refugees are given the cold shoulder?

Another reason I love baseball is that the holidays are truly downtime for fans. There are no games and aside from any trade news, there’s nothing to follow. As I’ve watched the presidential candidates traipse around Iowa and New Hampshire I can’t help but think that all except one may regret how they’ve used this time in their lives.

I also suspect that these candidates may regret the hard line they’ve taken on the Syrian refugees. While I certainly understand — and agree — that we need to carefully monitor who comes into our country, I think that some who have adopted a knee-jerk, anti-refugee stance have forgotten not only why the United States is here, but what we continue to fight around the world.

Although most Americans started paying attention to the Syrian refugee crisis sometime this summer, the truth is that a steady stream of Syrians have been fleeing their homeland since 2011 — more than 4 million have registered as refugees. Most are in Turkey and Lebanon and all are fleeing the horrors of a multi-sided civil war with the Assad regime, rebel fighters and Islamic extremists shredding the country to pieces. In January the UN estimated that 220,000 Syrians had died in the war.

As I waded through my own mixed feelings watching news coverage of Syrians flooding into Europe, I thought of my family members who arrived in this area as refugees. They were fortunate to survive the long and dangerous journey from their homeland where they escaped after suffering religious persecution. Although their arrival was 395 years ago, some things about coming to America have changed — and some things never should. Back then, settlers arrived on our shores without having made any arrangements with the locals. They brought diseases (which eventually killed the locals) and a desire to take the land to make their own settlement. Those refugees — or pilgrims — as we’ve kindly named them — had nothing in common with the locals and saw them as inferior.

While it would be a mistake to generalize what today’s refugees are thinking or planning for the future, it’s clear that the vast majority of them are just running for their lives. Even Ben Carson, who recently spent time at a refugee camp, seemed surprised to note that the refugees he spoke with simply wanted to go home. I am certain that some probably hate America and some of them probably wish us harm, but making that wild assumption — and then using it as a reason to ban all refugees — is the wrong approach. I would further argue that by allowing these “what ifs” to shape our foreign policy and our standing as a world power, we’re playing right into the hands of the terrorists. After all, if their purpose is to terrorize us into changing our way of life, then by turning our backs on others in need after an act of terror, we are allowing the terrorists to lead us — and that would be something we would all regret.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Paging Governor Chafee: please return to the bench

After watching the Democratic presidential debate last week, I have only two words for Governor Chafee: please stop.
Every time he spoke — and mercifully it was infrequently — he hit a new low in presidential debate history. He declared himself “a block of granite” on the issues, claiming never to abandon his principles. When he was asked to defend two of his votes in the U.S. Senate, he pretty much said that he didn’t know what he was doing and abandoned his principles to follow the herd. Hmmm. His performance in this debate will go down as one of the worst in the history of televised presidential debates. He wanted a turn in the batters box to hit it out of the park with his anti-war message. Well he struck out and now needs to take a seat.
With just $11,000 raised in the last quarter (which is about what a state rep could expect to raise at a single event), less than 1 percent support and no staff to run his campaign, the Chafee campaign is now a cocktail party joke with nowhere to go but down. And while tittering “oh my gosh did you hear about what Governor Chafee said,” was a constant refrain in Little Rhody, my concern is that his presidential campaign is once again making Rhode Island a laughingstock. For many, it’s unfathomable that he was elected in statewide race twice. We know of course that he only won with a majority in one campaign but without saying “well Rhode Islanders were actually only crazy once — and we really were just hoping he was like his father,” the truth is that his campaign is making us all look dumb.
All evidence indicates that he’s planning to continue the campaign indefinitely. With personal wealth and nothing but time on his hands, I am sure he believes that this time is well spent even if there is no path to victory in one county of one state, forget about the Democratic nomination. I wonder if he has stopped to consider the implications for his family’s reputation or how he’s going to spend his time moving forward. His father was larger than life and I think many of us find it inconceivable that one of Rhode Island’s best and most honorable public servants could have raised such a stubborn “my-way-or-the-highway” politician. I have to believe that this folly will also impact the next chapter in his life. I can’t imagine too many universities will be lining up to ask him to join their faculties and teach the next generation of political leaders. I also feel for people who worked for him in D.C. or Rhode Island. Their experience on a senate staff or in a governor’s office becomes less valuable as Chafee becomes more and more bizarre, tainting their resumes forever.
Some say there’s nothing worse than seeing an athlete who doesn’t know when to quit, but watching Linc Chafee trying to run for president comes pretty close.

Friday, October 9, 2015

38 Studios in the full-length mirror

I have to say that I was a bit surprised at the reaction I got to last week’s post. While I heard several “you betchas,” it seemed that when I said I wanted to put 38 Studios in the rear view mirror, some folks thought I wanted to sweep 38 Studios under a rug and walk away. As I wrote, “Rhode Islanders deserve transparency and we should hold any criminally culpable parties accountable,” so I am game for the examination, but I still think we need to be ready to move on. Rhode Island has been obsessing about 38 Studios for nearly five years and we need to make sure that “never again” doesn’t make Rhode Island even less friendly to businesses and entrepreneurs than it was before. Should the new tourism campaign say, “Welcome to Rhode Island, We’re Bitter About Getting Fleeced”? Of course not—I still contend that it’s time we put our best foot forward—but let’s go ahead and pour some salt in a wound:
Carcieri wanted a success and, for once, had the tailwind of General Assembly support. There was a train to an economic development win and he hopped on. Since the principal brought glory to a cursed franchise, surely he could do the same for Rhode Island. He and his staff were “all in” for the win.
Chafee wanted no part of the project—despite having responsibility for administering it—and maybe even wished it to fail. Perhaps we should have been able to “Trust Chafee” to appoint a special investigator in the days after the collapse of 38 Studios. I can only imagine considering how petulantly he behaved in the deposition that any investigation would reveal he did absolutely nothing to ensure that taxpayer dollars were protected. His “leadership” of the EDC is probably the most painful part of this whole episode. We elected someone who was more focused on being right than doing right by Rhode Island.
For as much as the blame could be laid at the feet of Governor Carcieri and Governor Chafee, the truth is that Rhode Island’s governor can do nothing without the engine of the General Assembly. The office of the Rhode Island governor is one of the weakest constitutionally — and one of only six in the nation without a line item veto. The power imbalance is enhanced by fact that our state government is politically lopsided as well. As a result, the now-jailed speaker was able to ram the “deal” through the General Assembly with very few questions from the rank and file of our part-time, underpaid and understaffed, and overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Most of them had heard Bob Watson railing against something before, so his lone opposition raised no red flags.
Unfortunately, the post-mortem is most unsatisfying because we have no one to blame but ourselves. No one crowned or appointed Gordon Fox: he was elected by the people of his district and he was elected speaker by the people who represent the rest of us. In this debacle we elected the people who steered us wrong (an R, an I and a D) and the vast majority of us are not engaged enough in the process to ensure that it will never happen again. We don’t all need to run for office (but more of us should) and we don’t all need to support good candidates (although many good candidates cannot self-fund) but if we want to get to the bottom of 38 Studios, we need to be willing to look at a full-length shot of ourselves and then decide if we are willing—or capable—of engaging in the process enough to change it.