Corporate Accountability Is Not a Priority in Rhode Island

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When writing the headline for this piece, I initially went with: “Corporate Accountability Is an Afterthought in Rhode Island.”

But I quickly realized that would be a little misleading to readers, as the word “afterthought” implies a person, or group of people, actually starts thinking of something at some point. And I don’t get the impression our governor and her administration ever became too concerned about holding accountable the corporations that have leaned on taxpayers for years.

Take for instance the case of Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat and its use of jobs training funding in Rhode Island. Continue reading

General Dynamics and the Undermining of Democracy in Rhode Island and Connecticut

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This is a quick reminder that I am in the middle of a fundraising campaign to support the journalism produced here at Nunes’ Weekly. If you have contributed already, thank you so much! If you haven’t, please consider supporting my reporting with a donation. Every dollar counts:

If you’re a Connecticut resident who was caught off guard last week by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement of an $83-million subsidy package to U.S. Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat, don’t worry—you weren’t alone.

That’s because, while Malloy’s self-described “historic long-term partnership” with Electric Boat had been in the works for months, the giveaway to cover infrastructure expansion and workforce development costs at Electric Boat’s Groton shipyard was virtually impossible for the public to follow and weigh in on in any meaningful way.

From what the public could see, it all started in January when Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) announced her plan to introduce a bill offering $100-million to Electric Boat for facility expansion, and another $50-million for employee training. A placeholder for the “Act Concerning Funding For Submarine Jobs and Opportunities” was posted online with zero details and then never updated. Continue reading

Chafee Says He Will Challenge Whitehouse on Yemen, Civil Liberties, Superdelegates, and the Burrillville Power Plant

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In 2006, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse defeated then-Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee on a campaign that largely sought to tie Chafee to the unpopular policies of the George W. Bush presidency. Twelve years on, some progressive Democrats disappointed with Whitehouse’s votes on civil liberties, Pentagon spending, and U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen, among other issues, are now looking to Chafee to challenge Whitehouse in this year’s Democratic primary—from the left. Chafee, who says he is 95 percent committed to running, expects to announce his final decision later this week. On Tuesday, he and I sat down in his Warwick office for an interview on topics including the Yemen war, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, single-payer health insurance, U.S. prisons, media reform, Whitehouse’s vote as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton despite widespread support in Rhode Island for Bernie Sanders, war spending, and Russia.

We began by discussing the recent and minor controversy over comments Chafee made about Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Providence Journal article, titled, “Chafee praises Putin’s ‘brilliant’ critique of U.S. power.” Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Continue reading

Matt Brown Says General Dynamics is ‘Strong-Arming Rhode Island Taxpayers,’ and the State Needs to Move Beyond Its Military Economy

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When I heard Matt Brown was considering a run for Rhode Island governor, the first thing that struck me was how he’s spent the last decade since leaving office as secretary of state: founding and then running Global Zero, an organization dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide by 2030. That work was certainly in direct contrast to a key focus of the state’s Congressional Delegation, which has thrown its political capital into development of a new class of nuclear-armed, ballistic missile submarines to be built at local Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat at the cost of up to $104-billion to U.S. taxpayers. Gov. Gina Raimondo, Brown’s opponent in this year’s Democratic primary, has also latched onto EB’s good fortune, dedicating more than $4-million in government funds to train the company’s workforce, labeling it one of the top jobs opportunities for the state.

I spoke to Brown by phone earlier this week, touching on his thoughts about nuclear weapons and Rhode Island’s role in producing them. The conversation evolved into a discussion on corporate power and the role of government in recent decades in enabling the most inequitable economic climate in America since the Gilded Age. As Brown sees it, his campaign will be about educating the public on these challenges with truthful and robust debate. The former founder of Rhode Island’s City Year school improvement program, Brown says his view of economic development distinguishes him from Raimondo, a former venture capitalist who has largely built her jobs growth plan around corporate subsidies and tax incentives—or what Brown characterizes as “giveaways.”

Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.                                                                                           Continue reading

Chris Murphy is Selling Us On ‘Empire Lite,’ and We’re Falling For It

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This story plays out consistently in American politics: a lawmaker or candidate comes along and advocates for one or a few positions activists of some sort have been waiting years for a public figure to get behind.

Encouraged, those activists whole-heartedly embrace the politician without first looking closely into the nuances of his or her record and positions.

That’s what’s going on right now with Chris Murphy, the Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut. He took the lead on challenging the U.S. military’s role in the Saudi war on Yemen, something few other members of Congress were willing to do, and he’s backing that up with calls to rethink U.S. policy abroad.

He’s started a website titled “Chance for Peace” and positioned his political brand around “A Progressive Foreign Policy.” The reaction, from what I’ve seen, has mostly been applause.

But, if you talk to peace activists in Murphy’s home state—people much more familiar with his track record—they’ll tell you to be much more skeptical.

“Progressive doesn’t mean pacifist,” Joanne Sheehan, a Norwich, Conn., activist with the War Resisters League, told me recently. “It doesn’t even mean anti-militarist.” Continue reading

In Four Years, Taxpayers Spent $18-Million On Medicaid Assistance For Workers at Rhode Island Companies Receiving Millions in Economic Development Tax ‘Incentives’

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Between the state’s 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, Rhode Island allocated $18-million through its Medicaid-funded Rite Care and Rite Share medical assistance programs to employees working at companies that simultaneously received more than $114-million in state subsidies designed to spur job growth and workforce development.

CVS Health topped the list for total Rite Care and Rite Share expenses, as well as total tax incentives received. According to Rhode Island Unified Economic Development Reports, CVS employees and their dependents utilized $5.7-million in medical assistance during the four-year period in which the Woonsocket-based company also received $63-million in tax benefits.

Since 2008, CVS has received more state subsidies than any other business: $175-million of the nearly $350-million disclosed in the Division of Taxation’s annual reports on tax credits and incentives.

The second and third highest totals for Medicaid-funded benefits were at jewelry maker Tiffany & Company, and submarine builder Electric Boat, with employees and their dependents receiving $4.5-million and $3-million in government-funded health insurance benefits, respectively. Continue reading

Connecticut’s General Dynamics Giveaway and Its ‘Astroturf’ Supporters

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The term “astroturfing” comes to mind when reading recent testimony given in favor of a bill under consideration in Connecticut, titled, “An Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” a proposal with a seemingly well-intentioned name and an obscured agenda: to handout government money to the highly lucrative defense contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat.

The Trojan Horse here—the bill, among other “investments,” would result in the allocation of $100-million in state grants to fund infrastructure projects at the submarine maker’s Groton shipyard—is not lost on skeptical and genuinely grassroots organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers, which said taxpayers have reason to “fear the complexity of this bill is masking a hidden agenda.”

“The Federal government pays submarine manufacturers billions of dollars to deliver and service their products and these manufacturers can well afford their own capital spending,” the organization said in written testimony recorded April 2. “During a time of fiscal distress, this is an insult to the Connecticut taxpayer. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gave our technical highs schools a $100M grant.”

The organization concluded: [T]he deck seems heavily stacked toward large corporations.”

But you’d never get that sense from reading testimony given by the innocently titled Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which never mentions Electric Boat by name or the $100-million grant to subsidize “acquisition of lands, buildings, machinery, equipment or any combination thereof.” Continue reading

The Myth of General Dynamics-Electric Boat and Its ‘Middle Class Jobs’

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The author Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

In Rhode Island and Connecticut, we tell ourselves myths about Electric Boat in order to justify building war machines.

There are the obvious myths: that a fleet of nuclear-armed submarines costing upwards of $104-billion will be a force for peace in the world; that executives at parent company General Dynamics gobbling up millions of dollars in compensation each year on the taxpayer dime are “patriotic”; and that some other community will build these weapons systems anyway if Southern New England doesn’t—so why shouldn’t we?

The fourth myth, which might be the most rich, is that the top brass at General Dynamics-Electric Boat actually care about our community, that they’re people committed to providing us with “good middle class jobs,” the kind of “blue collar” work that still provides an income you can raise a family on. Continue reading

Bath Police Chief Says He Does Not ‘Characterize’ Peace Activists as Potential Terrorists

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Michael Field, chief of police for Bath, Maine, clarified his position on activists who have staged protests at Navy contractor Bath Iron Works, in an email one day after a story published on this website reported his invoking of an exemption for anti-terrorism planning in denying a recent state Freedom of Access Act request.

“I do not characterize the protestors as terrorist,” Field wrote Tuesday. “Having said that, the planning and operational details that go into the events at BIW are more broad than just protestors.”

The Freedom of Access request sent to Field and his administrative assistant earlier this month sought “an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that show communications between the Bath Police Department and Bath Iron Works concerning policing of protests at the Bath Iron Works shipyard” over the past two years. Continue reading

What Issues Take Priority and What Gets Shut Out on Sheldon Whitehouse’s Twitter Feed

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In today’s world, tweets by members of Congress can tell you a lot: what they’re prioritizing, how they’re using their political capital, and the messages they want to get out to constituents, colleagues, and the media.

Because of all that, I decided recently to analyze Twitter feeds for the four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation using a social science research method called coding. Coding essentially means categorizing data to help you draw conclusions from the information you want to evaluate.

In the case of congressional tweets, I created topical areas—such as gun control, climate change, Russia, health care, immigration, and police reform—and tallied up the number of tweets that referenced each issue. Continue reading