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R.I. Politics as usual: Men Behaving Badly

June 22, 2010

Summer is here, a couple of our reporters are on vacation, and there’s a sense that the news is slowing down.  But thankfully, here in Rhode Island, there is always a story or two about government corruption to keep us busy.  That’s true this week for our political reporter, Ian Donnis, who is following what he calls “a recent eruption of bad behavior in state government.”   Major highlights include a story from Cranston, where a developer and various elected officials worked out an insider deal to alter zoning rules and pave the way for an unpopular supermarket development.  This sort of behavior makes advocates of “good government” wince – just as they did last week when the Senate killed legislation that would have made the Senate ethics committee stronger.  Among those opposed to a more robust ethics commission was State Senator Christopher Maselli of Johnston, who argued that lawmakers can police themselves.  A few days after making that argument, Maselli was indicted on bank fraud charges (he pleaded not guilty). 

Inspired by this recent run of government corruption, our political analyst, Scott Mackay, is working on an essay about the history of roguish political behavior in Rhode Island.  You can hear Scott’s essay next Monday on Morning Edition.  Scott also sat down for an interview with Anthony Gemma, the Lincoln businessman, who is running for Congress — the latest entrant in the four-way primary to succeed Patrick Kennedy.   The interview, the first in a series with the candidates who hope to represent Rhode Island’s first congressional district, will air this week on Morning Edition.

We are also tracking a pair of stories about the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and how the environmental consequences are being felt all the way up in New England.  As the catastrophe unfolds, scientists and wildlife conservationists are warning that large numbers of birds could be lost.  Not only are species from the Gulf, such as the brown pelican, being threatened, but so are other shorebirds from New England, which will migrate to the Gulf by the end of the summer.  Both stories, which are part of a collaboration between northeastern public radio stations, are airing this week on Morning Edition

Our healthcare reporter, Megan Hall, is preparing a story about how Rhode Island doctors are struggling with federal Medicare reimbursement rates.  Starting this week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is paying 21% less to doctors for treating Medicare patients.  The cut is part of a saga that’s been going on for years. Back in the 90s, Congress passed a law to control Medicare spending. Put simply, it required that the amount Medicare spends shouldn’t increase faster than the growth of the economy.  But health care costs have increased much faster than inflation, so the law has in effect resulted in some pretty substantial cuts in Medicare payments.  For a great explanation by NPR’s Planet Money (the story ran in February, when congress was working on ANOTHER temporary fix) click here.

Our general assignment reporter, Flo Jonic, is finishing up another story this week about the tight job market in Rhode Island.  Flo has found that despite the state’s high unemployment rate, hundreds of high-paying jobs are going begging.  The problem is what employment experts call a “skills deficit.”  In other words, people don’t have the skills necessary to do the work. 

This week our Morning Edition host, Bob Seay, is exploring efforts to expand public access to Fort Adams State Park in Newport.  Right now, only guided walking tour are permitted, but the Fort Adams Trust is hoping to change that.  The group has launched a quarter million dollar study explore ways to open the 153-year old facility to unguided visitors. But the project has its challenges, including safety concerns and how to raise the funds to make the project a reality. A

Finally, as I mentioned last week, don’t miss Rhode Island Artscape this Thursday on Morning Edition, when Bob interviews Joel Thibodeau, who is the driving force behind the Rhode Island-based band, Death Vessel.

That’s all for now.  Stay tuned, and thanks for listening.

Anthony Brooks

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