Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Monday, March 18, 2013

There's one born every minute

Ken Block is the new PT Barnum of Rhode Island. He’s dominating local politics like it’s his own private three ring circus. Too bad he’s treating Rhode Islanders like suckers in the process.

Block got an amazing amount of positive press for his report on fraud and abuse in the state SNAP program. Technically, this is called earned media but the term is a little bit of a misnomer in this instance: his report shows virtually no fraud and/or abuse. This is not unlike how Anthony Gemma got unearned media for accusing David Cicilline of voter fraud, without producing any credible evidence whatsoever.

He did the report under the guise that he could save the state a quarter billion dollars a year, even though state money isn’t spent on many of these programs. Where I come from that is called being a snake oil salesman. How is it that no one in the governor’s office noticed that Block was offering to save us more money than we spend?

Instead of saving us millions, he unearthed two homeless guys and a few dozen ACI inmates who are bilking the system and hardly identified even one dollar in savings. Talk about not producing on deliverables! In fact, one could argue that because we are now investing additional resources to ferret out the miniscule amount of fraud that does exist, the report actually costs taxpayers money! (not to say that we shouldn’t invest our tax dollars in our principles … in fact, it seems like a pretty good way to foster a principled society to me!)

But here’s what the report did accomplish: it made poor people and Gov. Chafee look bad. Those two memes – true or false – drive a lot of buzz in the local media. I’m not saying either are non-stories, but I do think several local media outlets did their audience, if not their advertisers, a disservice this week by focusing on this melodrama when much more important stories were equally ripe for the picking.

But the press just can’t resist Ken Block as of late.

The Providence Journal ran a picture of him today with what looks like people saluting him. This wasn’t even the same story as the A1; I thought an editor had botched the jump from the pope story! And the lede was written as if Ed Achorn, who was there,wrote it: “Rhode Islanders do not understand how the so-called “master lever” or straight party voting option works and no one has come forward to provide a compelling reason why it should stay.”

In his third appearance in the Providence Journal of the day, he wrote about an education issue. His expertise on the matter: “One of my dear friends teaches in the Pawtucket school system.” (Hey Sailing magazine, I have a good buddy with boat; want me to be your correspondent in French Polynesia?)  Is this really the best copy the editorial page had to use today, or is the paper of record just gaga for Ken Block?

The report, more than a year in the making, does not quantify how much waste and fraud might be occurring in Rhode Island’s health and human services programs, nor does it claim to be comprehensive.

But the 16-page document, characterized by Chafee and two of his cabinet members as one piece of a broad effort to fight waste and fraud, provides a rare glimpse into the ways that some of the more than $3 billion that the state spends on social service programs can be wasted or misspent.

This is a great example of how what is commonly referred to as “unbiased journalism” an be 100 percent true and entirely inaccurate at the same time. Some examples:

·         “A year in the making” Yeah, same with my book about my Occutour. That doesn’t mean I’ve put a lot of effort into it, or that it’s going to be any good!

·         “does not quantify how much waste and abuse might be occurring … nor does it claim to be comprehensive” An unquantifiable amount of fraud and abuse that isn’t even comprehensive, stop the presses!!! Or, in other words, the report didn’t tell us too much.

Here’s WPRI lede from yesterday: “A company hired to investigate waste and fraud in the state’s welfare programs found prisoners and deceased people receiving food stamps…” Translation: company = small government activist who is probably going to run for governor. Hired = allowed to do so after he pretty much begged for it. That the lede implies prison inmates are engaging in a problematic level of fraud is particularly gross.

First of all, there are more than 3,100 people incarcerated in the ACI and only 60 of them are getting food stamps. Not 60 who are committing fraud. And even if all 60 were gaming the system, that’s still just .01 percent of the population. More importantly, of all the crimes that are probably being committed at the ACI, welfare fraud is so totally low on the list of ones that are making our community a better and/or affordable place to live. Sam Howard would call this outrage porn. Me too.

I have to believe Block knows he’s trafficking in outrage porn too. His new group of cohorts from RISC and the tea party have been specializing in this stuff for years. Even just that Block calls himself a moderate is getting to be a joke.  If you look at the RI Taxpayers legislative agenda, there is nothing at all moderate about it. He’s the president of this group. Earlier today I wrote that it’s like claiming California is in the midwest.

It’s all a bunch of ridiculous stuff trying to bend the debate toward otherwise unpopular politics. It’s not a bad strategy, but it’s pretty devoid of integrity.

He offered to write a post for RI Future about why rooting out fraud is a progressive issue. He knows we have this in common. My opinion is he wants to make it seem like this blog or me or the progressives are pro-fraud. As a point of fact, we are opposed to fraud. That’s why I wrote this post.

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.