October 26, 2014
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‘Nagging’ ads creepy use of taxpayers’ dollars
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

RHODE ISLAND’S OBAMACARE EXCHANGE GETS CREEPY AND CRIMINAL: HealthSourceRI, Rhode Island’s Obamacare sign-up exchange, has garnered national attention for its slide into cyber creepiness. The exchange is running ads on Facebook intended to encourage mothers to “incessantly nag” their adult children to sign up for Obamacare health insurance. The ads are downright creepy!

HealthSourceRI’s director, Christine Ferguson, said the ads are “tongue-in-cheek”, but the evidence says otherwise. The ads actually provide a “toolkit” for mothers showing them step-by-step how to sign up for dating sites such as OkCupid, how to “create a provocative username,” how to upload a photo, how to create a profile, and then how to find their sons and daughters on the dating sites. Mothers are urged to then send messages from these fake, potential lovers to their children urging them to sign up for Obamacare health insurance through HealthSourceRI. That’s hardly tongue-in-cheek.

This has to take the cake for the weirdest, creepiest, most underhanded use of taxpayer dollars in Rhode Island history! Not only is it creepy, but it is encouraging parents to practice cyber-stalking. From that perspective, it’s downright criminal. Governor Chafee must put a stop to this travesty immediately and our legislature should move to de-fund the program.

STATE AND UNIONS PUSH RIGGED BALLOT PROCEDURE: Gina Raimondo and public employee union bosses created a rigged election process for current and retired state and municipal employees who are voting on whether or not to accept the pension reform agreement reached between their union leaders and state leaders.

The process ensures that any ballots not returned will be counted as “yes” or “accept” votes. If an eligible voter is lazy, procrastinates, is undecided, is out of town, or just doesn’t receive a ballot, his failure to return the ballot with “no” marked becomes a “yes” vote. It’s crazy, it’s unfair, its results will not be a clear indication of employees’ and retirees’ desires - in short, it’s rigged.

What if we had a referendum question on November’s ballot that asked voters to approve doubling the state income tax rate, or a question asking voters to approve the elimination of all welfare programs in Rhode Island? And what if the election process included a provision that counted voters who didn’t show up at the polls as having voted “yes”? Ocean State voters tend to stay home during midterm elections; 51 percent didn’t vote in the last one. So these stay-at-home voters would cancel all the “no” votes cast by those who actually went to the polls and the referendums would be approved. Our income tax would double and hungry children would go unfed.

This crazy, imaginary voting scenario would certainly be called unfair and rigged. Yet our state leaders and public employee union bosses agreed to use the same process in the pension reform election. It’s undemocratic and un-American; but most of all - it’s just plain stupid.

GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE COMING TO YOUR STREET: The ACLU and at least one legislator are concerned about the proliferation of license plate readers used by law enforcement agencies. We should all be concerned! Our government already spies on our phone records, our email, and our Internet activities. The license plate readers can track our every movement as we drive to the movies, to the grocery store and to political rallies; and the records of our movements are kept on file.

An ACLU spokeswoman said of the plate reader technology, “It can track thousands of cars at a time, so there’s obviously a very large privacy concern. It is very important that we deal with this situation now, before it gets out of hand.” She’s 100 percent right.

Senator Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, has introduced a bill that would restrict plate reading to four uses: monitoring toll locations, identifying people with outstanding parking or traffic violations, locating people for whom there is an outstanding warrant, and identifying vehicles linked to a missing person. Records not related to one of the four acceptable reasons would have to be destroyed within 48 hours.

Thank goodness there is at least one person in our General Assembly who has the intelligence and foresight to recognize a growing problem when she sees it. We live in a “big brother is watching you” society as it is; let’s not make it even worse by allowing the proliferation of this privacy-destroying technology.

UNIONS IN CHARGE ON SMITH HILL: Union-backed Democrats in the Rhode Island Senate passed a bill that will forbid small businesses from bidding on public contracts over $1 million unless they have apprenticeship programs and use apprentices for at least 10 percent of their work. Plus, the small businesses must have five journeymen (experienced workers) for every apprentice.

The bill would virtually eliminate small businesses from bidding on state and municipal projects since almost all cost over $1 million. Further, it would result in companies refusing to add jobs since for every apprentice a company adds it must also add five journeymen. If businesses have to hire six new employees in order to add one apprentice, new jobs won’t be created.

Perhaps the new leadership in the House will change things, but this bill certainly shows how unions currently control our legislators. The bill would be bad for businesses, costly to taxpayers, worsen our economy, harm new job creation, and destructive to free enterprise. Yet the Democrat-controlled senate voted in favor of it anyway. Don’t tell us the unions aren’t in charge on Smith Hill.

WHEN DOES A MISTAKE BECOME A THEFT? For 10 years the City of Providence erroneously levied property taxes on a house that is actually across the line in Pawtucket. The property’s front yard is in Providence and that is all that should have been taxed by Providence. The owner dutifully paid property taxes on the house to Pawtucket and also erroneously to Providence in the amount of $24,000.

The Providence city councilor who represents the home owner’s “front yard” has asked the city council to refund the $24,000 to the property owner but the Providence deputy city solicitor told the council “it would be setting a precedent” and City Councilor Sam Zurrier said he’s not inclined to give the property owner a full refund.

Sometimes there is a fine line between a mistake that unfairly costs someone money and theft. In other cases, a costly mistake that is consciously not corrected once discovered constitutes outright theft. That certainly seems to be the case here. The council’s lawyer and a councilor seem to be advocating that Providence continue a major theft from an innocent homeowner. If gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras, the current Providence mayor, wants to impress voters, he should quickly weigh in on this issue in favor of the homeowner.

ANTI-BUSINESS “CALORIE COUNT” BILL: A bill introduced in the General Assembly would require restaurants to list ingredients contained in the food they serve in order to protect those with allergies. Unfortunately, the bill goes on to also require the calorie count for every restaurant food items be listed. It’s fairly easy to list ingredients; it’s not so easy to determine calories counts. If every mom and pop restaurant has to hire a dietician or other calorie-determination expert, they might as well go out of business.

Most people know that a plate full of pork chops and mashed potatoes with gravy along with butter-laden rolls, followed by a large slab of pie with ice cream on top, is a high-calorie meal; and, conversely, that a garden salad with a few slices of baked chicken mixed in is a low-calorie meal. We don’t need to burden restaurant owners with the legal obligation to tell us exact calorie counts in order to stay in business in Rhode Island.

This ludicrous bill goes to show that our feckless legislators still don’t get the message that successful, unburdened businesses are the jobs-generator for our state’s bottom-of-the-barrel economy. Don’t make things worse for them.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Travis D’Amato, vice president of the brokerage firm charged with marketing the state-owned land in Providence that was freed up by the I-195 relocation, reported that potential developers thus far seem reluctant to pursue development opportunities on the site. D’Amato quoted one developer as asking, “Travis, why is this different than anything I’ve ever tried in Rhode Island before?”

Unfortunately, that statement speaks volumes about how investors fear trying to establish businesses in the high-tax, over-regulated business environment of the “little state that couldn’t.”


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