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Sunday, August 23, 2020

UPDATED: Short Takes: Rhode Islanders try to cope with the pandemic

Charlestown decides it’s a great time to buy more land
By Will Collette

By Mike LuckovichAtlanta Journal-Constitution
The numbers and interstate travel
Despite erratic numbers for new cases, hospitalizations and death, Rhode Island was taken off the quarantine lists of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, although we remain on the Massachusetts list.

Being on or off the list means travelers from Rhode Island will have to register and quarantine for 14 days when they spend more than 24 hours in a state with us on their list.

New cases have been climbing – 130 on August 20 – but our our case positivity rate is low. That’s the percentage of people found to be infected among those who were tested. It was 1.8% on August 20 which is great compared to Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and other red states who have positivity rates of between 30-40%.

Only the discipline to wear masks, social distance and not being a jerk keeps us from slipping into Florida-style pandemic madness.

Still, Rhode Island is still seeing lots of bars where people are misbehaving – it’s gotten to crisis levels out on Block Island.

And we still haven’t re-opened schools. If Rhode Island follows the pattern of other states, school re-opening will be following by a spike in cases and deaths that may cost some children their lives. Gina Raimondo has postponed the reopening date to September 14 but even then, I have a bad feeling about this.

The Charlestown Plague Economy: Buy more open space

Because of the pandemic, the Rhode Island economy is in tatters, Unemployment in Charlestown was adjusted upwards to 12.2% for June and is at 11.3% for July. 

Trump and Senate Republicans refuse to act on legislation passed by House Democrats more than 3 months ago to provide aid to states and municipalities whose revenues have been decimated by the pandemic and the resulting recession. Congress is on recess until after Labor Day.

While we’re waiting for a Congressional deal for serious economic relief, Rhode Island has signed up for Trump’s dubious $300 a week unemployment bonus executive order, which may or may not ever actually materialize. If it does, that fund is estimated to last only between 3 and 5 weeks.

I’ve been asking for the town of Charlestown to develop a keen, laser-like focus on helping rebuild our local economy and help the unemployed. There are practical things Charlestown can do.

So naturally, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party), which controls every aspect of town government, turns its sights on buying more land from its political pals and cronies at inflated prices.

National Republicans think the solution to any problem is to cut taxes for the rich. The CCA Party thinks turning more private land into open space is the answer to every Charlestown problem.

I guess you can summarize their pandemic plan as this: let’s let those 11-12% unemployed Charlestown’s homeowners go to foreclosure or tax sale and buy them up to make more open space. 

If the CCA Party follows its usual pattern, they will pay more than the land is worth so when the homeless family leaves town, they might have a little to take with them.

UPDATED: Block Island pandemonium

A squad of seven additional State Police troopers landed on Block Island to help other troopers and local police try to maintain order, enforce anti-coronavirus measures and stop moped deaths and injuries. Apparently, when the island finally opened up, they were flooded with young non-residents who crowded the ferries and packed local bars and restaurants.

Even worse, they apparently rented mopeds while impaired and zoomed down the island’s narrow, curvy lanes. After two deaths in a week, the New Shoreham town council tried to restore order.

“We are in emergency circumstances. It’s like a carnival gone awry and I don’t have the staff to deal with this.”
Progressive Charlestown: Blake Filippi, self-styled Constitutional expert,  has all the answersAt first, the Council suspended entertainment licenses but that caused an uproar with the affected business owners, many of whom are wealthy and influential, including the family of our peripatetic state representative Blake “Flip” Filippi.

The Council had to restore the licenses but at reduced hours: 5 PM to 9 PM. Then they turned their attention to the moped problem.

There again, they ran into powerful opposition – Flip Filippi – who really didn’t think there was much of a problem as he told the Block Island Chamber of Commerce in May:
"I've been an operator for a long time and the moped technology is much better these days and as a result the amount of accidents is much less than it used to be."  
Yeah right, Flip. It turns out that since the shortened summer season began, there have been 55 moped crashes with 11 victims needed to be medivacked to trauma centers on the mainland - and those two deaths. In 2018, there were 46 accidents during the entire season and 34 in 2019.

The best the Council could do was reduce the number of mopeds that each of the five dealers on the island could rent from 34 to 25 each in the hope that this modest reduction in numbers plus enhanced State Police enforcement might reduce the carnage.

Early reports are that it worked. The Block Island Times reported on Saturday that the extra State Troopers brought things back under controlPolice Chief Vin Carlone told the Times, "Everyone is driving politely. Feel the atmosphere. It feels like a new island in just one day.” 

UPDATE: Well, apparently the Chief spoke too soon. On Sunday, State Police arrested a 20 year old from out of state on reckless driving and suspicion of driving impaired after a roll-over accident that injured his passenger. 

Here's the State Police tweet:
In an editorial, the New London Day focused on Flip Filippi’s role in this problem on what is supposed to be his home base:
“Filippi might be uniquely positioned to help Block Island secure legislation allowing the island to better regulate or even eliminate mopeds. But he seems unlikely to intervene, given his self-interest… [Block Island] could use a representative in the state legislature who doesn't have an enormous conflict of interest. It looks like that may not happen soon, since Filippi's only opposition this fall is a write-in candidate.”  
I don't know who that write-in opponent to Filippi is, but I'd like to know. If any of you know who is running as a write-in against Flip, please e-mail Progressive Charlestown. I do know that Sen. Dennis Algiere faces a write-in challenger, Julius Dunn.

The November elections
By Mark FioreKQED News
As you may already know, the US Supreme Court shot down the attempt by Rhode Island Republicans to force the retention of the out-moded system that required either two witnesses or a notary to validate your mail-in ballot.

So now it’s much easier to vote by mail….except for what Trump is trying to do to the US Postal Service. He appointed his crony Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General and gave him the mission of wrecking the Postal Service. 

Trump has publicly admitted that because of his fear of mail-in voting. Not for himself, of course – he and Melania have already applied for Florida mail-in ballots illegally using Mar-A-Lago as their address.

Mail Processing Machines | National Postal Museum
The Postal Service has notified the states that things are going so bad at the Post Office that they cannot guarantee applications and ballots will actually all get delivered on time. 

DeJoy has since changed his tune to say that everything will be fine even though he refuses to put back all the mail boxes he has ordered removed and will not allow the automatic sorting machines he removed to be re-assembled.

It is a federal crime under 18 USC §1701 to impede the delivery of the US Mail. No Postmaster General has ever been charged with that crime, but as we all know, the Trump administration is renowned for creating "firsts."

Among the remedies: file your application for a mail-in ballot as early as possible and mail in your vote as soon as possible. CLICK HERE to get a downloadable copy of the application for a mail-in ballot for the November 3 general election. The deadline to apply is October but do not wait till the last minute.

Some jurisdictions are setting up secure ballot drop-off boxes. That hasn’t happened in Rhode Island yet, but it’s a good option. Charlestown already allows taxpayers to use a drop-box next to the entrance to Town Hall to pay their tax bills. That could be re-purposed (or dual-purposed) for ballots.

Business issues

For Rhode Island’s Phase 3 re-opening to work, covered businesses need to comply and state inspectors have been dispatched to make them do it.

That has resulted in a number of closures or sanctions of area businesses including:
  • Andrea Hotel restaurant in Westerly on August 11. They were shut down, complied and then reopened the following day;
  • K&B Quick Shop in Westerly was cited on June 23 and found to be in compliance on July 31;
Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown shut itself down indefinitely on August 21 because, as they put it:
“There has been an asymptomatic positive test in the tight-knit community surrounding the Allie’s Donuts Family, and we have decided to sacrifice all the good that comes from making donuts in order to ensure the safety of our staff members and our customers.”
This is a terrible time to be trying to run a small business, especially one with a lot of customer contact. Many of these businesses are not going to survive this pandemic.

But then, we’ve already lost over 170,000 American lives and are forecast to lose many more. Everybody – even Flip Filippi – will need to do their part to follow the science and do what we need to do to bring COVID-19 under control.

State says it has a plan if re-opening schools goes wrong