Friday, July 17, 2009

MPRI Lead Organizer Margaret Paynich gets Letter to the Editor in Warwick Beacon

Moderate Party of Rhode Island Lead Organizer and The Moderate contributor Margaret Paynich got a Letter to the Editor published in the Warwick Beacon this past Wednesday:

To the Editor:

Rhode Island cannot succeed while our government continues on its present path of corruption, financial mismanagement and lack of accountability.

Jobs are disappearing while our economy shrinks due to out of control spending and taxation. Our elected officials are not being held accountable for their actions, ethics and voting records. At least 40 percent of the state legislative seats have been uncontested for years and candidates who challenge incumbents often do not have the party structure to support them to win.

The Moderate Party believes our government should focus on four key issues to improve the quality of life in Rhode Island: Economy, Ethics, Education and Environment. We will build a network of candidates who are committed to our four priorities to create the competition and dialogue we need between candidates to elect the right people from all political affiliations.

The Moderate Party needs to collect 23,588 signatures to become an established political party in Rhode Island – and we need your help by signing our petition. We will be at the Warwick Mall all day Saturday, July 25, and Sunday July 26. You may learn more about the Moderate Party at Thank you for your support.

Margaret Paynich

Lead Organizer

Moderate Party of R.I.


Margaret captures in just a few lines the purpose and necessity of a truly new alternative to old Rhode Island politics. If you're ready to reform Rhode Island's political culture, find a Moderate Party petitioner today, and get your name down to start fixing the system.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Green Jobs Sound Great RI, But...

The rise of the global economy has forever changed the way the world does business. Textiles and low-tech manufacturing were once the dominant industry of the United States economy. In Rhode Island, jewelry manufacturing was what the state was know for. This niche in the national economy of the United States provided jobs either directly or indirectly to many Rhode Islanders. However, that time period has long passed, and now Rhode Island must find a new niche in a global economy. For years the Rhode Island leadership has proclaimed that a new Rhode Island industry is on the way to save the state. How many times have we heard this? I remember when the leadership said that Quonset Point would solve Rhode Island's troubled industry by using our greatest resource, the Narragansett Bay, to our advantage. However, all that idea did was make waves. Then they said the bio-technology industry would come and flourish here in Rhode Island, yet the industry never came. Today, the leadership says that Rhode Island will become a “green economy” with “green-collar workers.” To be honest, I applaud the leadership for taking the time to realize that Rhode Island needs to attract new and innovative industries. I also believe that all three of these ideas, among others, could and should already be providing high-paying jobs to Rhode Islanders. What I do not applaud is the poor efficiency and lack of thoughtful effort by the leadership to make these industries a reality. There is many different reasons why the leadership fails at attracting new industries to Rhode Island, high business taxes being one of them; but where Rhode Island lacks the most is at it's school system which fails to prepare students to meet the skills necessary for these new industries.

Rhode Island's Economic Development Corporation, known as the EDC, has stated that they are working with the state's universities and Brown University to develop programs that will educate a workforce for green jobs. That is a step in the right direction, however, the EDC as well as the Rhode Island leadership has failed to recognize that not everyone has the plans, motivation, or financial ability to go further in higher education. The leadership can continue to make speeches about how everyone should go to college and get a degree; I think every Rhode Islander believes in that too. However, for practicality, we must accept that there are some high-school graduates that will not take their education any more further then high school. It is not a pleasant fact, but a fact none the less. These students, who have nothing else but a high-school diploma are not prepared to work in this new economy that must happen in Rhode Island. This is because Rhode Island does not prepare their young with practical skills and vocations that can help them obtain entry level jobs in growing industries. With this said, Rhode Island should look to preparing it's high school students with skills that can help them flourish in this new economy.

Coventry Regional and Technical Center at Coventry High School provides several different programs for students who wish to either have additional skills in a vocation or whom plan to enter the workforce after high school. Manufacturing/Precision Machining is one of those programs. Rhode Island must revamp the programs provided in it's technical and vocational programs at it's high schools. As great as that is, precision machining is a dying industry, yet instead of converting this program into preparing students for a green-type of manufacturing job, we continue to provide training for an industry that is leaving Rhode Island for overseas. Rhode Island must reform it's vocational and technical programs to provide training for entry level positions in emerging industries. Rhode Island should look to the Community College of Rhode Island and it's certificate programs. These certificate programs, such as the Biotechnology Certificate, prepare students for entry level positions in emerging industries. Rhode Island should look to reform it's technical school's programs based on CCRI's certificate programs. Instead of those students learning a trade that has outlived it's usefulness, these students who may not want to go to college, will have the opportunity to have a certification that can give them an entry level job at an emerging industry instead of flipping burgers at the local burger hut. In addition, these programs should be tied into programs at the colleges so that students can also earn credits towards a degree program and furthering the motivation to continue with their education. With some companies, as long as you continue to advance oneself in the given industry, will ultimately pay for some if not all of the cost of higher education.

In addition to reforming the vocational and technical schools, Rhode Island should also expand on jump starting it's students who have performed well in academics. During the last years of high school, students that have shown excellence in studies should be given the opportunity to “start early.” Rhode Island has early enrollment programs that gives the opportunity to a select bunch of high schools students the chance to finish high school and earn college credits at the same time. It allows these students to be enrolled at both high school and college and gives them a jump start in college. These programs should be extended to more students so that Rhode Island can prepare more of it's young at an accelerated rate. In addition, it is a great motivational tool for students as they will be more enticed to work harder in high school to make it into the program as well as to continue with education after high school.

If Rhode Island works to prepare it's young with real world skills and knowledge of emerging industries, then the emerging industries will come seeking their aid. It is a necessity that we provide modern day training in bio-tech, computer networking, business and commerce, green jobs, etc. Let us be a flagship of attracting new industry instead of taking the leftovers of modern industry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Girls on Film: Happy Endings? is an Important Contribution to the Prostitution Debate

Rhode Island, in its time, has been known for many important and influential industries: slave importation, textiles, jewelry. In our time, another industry has gained considerable prominence, and attracted considerable controversy: the Asian massage parlor (AMP) industry. The undisputed truth is that the act of prostitution, when carried out behind closed doors, is 100% legal in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. 'Happy Endings?', directed by first-time documentary filmmaker Tara Hurley, is a compelling document that adds real data points to a debate that has been, at best, opaque.

The bulk of the film revolves around an unnamed spa, run by pseudonymous 'Heather', a Korean immigrant, and 'Chris', her elephantine American husband. Two sex workers, 'Jen' and 'Danielle', are also prominently featured. Hurley and cinematographer Nick Marcoux also managed to obtain interviews with important figures in the prostitution debate, from Providence Mayor David Cicilline to Joanne Gianinni, a state representative who perennially introduces bills that would close the purported “loophole” in state law that keeps indoor prostitution legal.

There is a lot of material here, and even after several viewings and a viewing of the excellent and enlightening audio commentary (worth the price of the DVD alone), I'm not sure that I've picked up 100% of the knowledge to be found in this film. The filmmakers take great pains to avoid inserting their opinions, though it is fairly clear that Hurley, at least, shares my impression that these girls are doing no great wrong and are being unjustly targeted by police and politicians for doing something legal yet socially unacceptable. But how can this be so? Isn't the debate about the AMP industry about human trafficking, sex slavery, and coercion?

It sure seems that way. The filmmakers begin their dissection of the politics of prostitution with an analysis of the word that I put in scare quotes above, that is the nefarious “loophole”. The use of this word would suggest that current law is simply worded in a way that inadvertently criminalizes only outdoor prostitution, while accidentally legalizing indoor prostitution. In fact, the myth of the “loophole” is so endemic to the AMP debate that it's even used on a Happy Endings? promotional postcard. Actually, though the law as it is, was set in 1980, when the General Assembly amended the prostitution statutes, leaving only street prostitution illegal. This was done in response to a lawsuit brought by COYOTE, a sex workers' rights activist group. The 1976 suit, COYOTE v. Roberts, alleged that Rhode Island prostitution law was so broad that even consensual sex not done for money could be prosecuted. The 1980 bill turned prostitution from a felony to a misdemeanor, and decriminalized the act entirely when done indoors.

And how did that work out? Well, at this particular spa, it seems to have turned out rather well. By the testimony of Providence Phoenix advertising agent Ginny Hall, who deals directly with the spas that advertise in the notorious Phoenix Adult section, “the girls are clean” and never give any hint that they are being coerced, held against their will, or are having their earnings withheld from them. In fact, it is alluded to (though not directly said as a rule) that it is quite possible for a woman to make well over $200,000 per year in a Rhode Island spa.

This leads me to the first great fault of 'Happy Endings?': a sometimes annoying, sometimes critical lack of clarity. It is shown in interviews that Rhode Island's law is meant to keep prostitutes off the streets, and that this was set in the wake of COYOTE v. Roberts, but the history of that case, the social context leading to it, and the immediate results are left up to the imagination. So is the near-term response to it by the General Assembly. It is never said outright what a girl could take home financially from a career in a spa. 'Chris' and 'Heather''s relationship is only clear on the second or (more likely) third viewing, even if you've been taking notes. I will attribute these errors to the fact that it is Hurley and Marcoux' first documentary, but they are flaws nonetheless. I think a bit more history and context could have given policy wonks (like yours truly) even more to chew on, as we weigh out the issues and consequences. That said, almost all contextual information can be found online, with a concise history of the issue to be found on Wikipedia.

Regardless, the documentary provides some important insights into the psyches of all sides of the prostitution equation: the politicians (particularly Mayor Cicilline), the sex workers ('Jen' and 'Danielle'), the management ('Heather' and 'Chris'), and the johns ('Chris', as well). An important insight of Hurley's in the (again, essential) audio commentary is that everyone profits from the prostitution status quo. The sex workers profit (literally), the johns find gratification, management profits (literally), the police get something to do (and clearly some gratification as well) and the politicians earn political points from posturing on the issue, particularly the Mayor, who has been made to look like quite the charlatan: a gay former ACLU lawyer cracking down on a legal act between consenting adults that the ACLU, represented in the film by RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown, vehemently defends. The police, well, the police bully some small women, ignore the johns, and receive the services that the women provide, ostensibly to collect “evidence” against them.

In fact, the police response is one of the most striking elements of the film. In one major segment, 'Heather's' spa is raided by Providence's Finest, who roll in with ('Jen's' words) “10 or 15 big men”, who detain the girls and bring them to be interrogated by police for approximately two hours. The women report policemen “checking in” periodically on targeted spas. Raids are executed which result in fire or health citations, prosecutions for giving a massage without a license. The police are clearly very aggressive in their efforts to find something to prosecute these spas for. 'Jen' describes a situation where she is patronized by an undercover policemen who gets her to consent to sex during a massage. As she begins the act, he runs off, ostensibly to report that he has evidence to use against them, now knowing that prostitution takes place there, even though it is legal, and can't result in a prosecution.

A cynical game, not altogether different from what one would expect to find in a state as (politely) dysfunctional as Rhode Island.

So where do we go from here? 'Happy Endings?' does not make this clear, but not because it wasn't trying. My best guess is that the Kabuki dance continues, a never-ending con that preys on criminally innocent (though debatably morally guilty, if that's your thing) women and blames them for preying on men, fails to recognize the essential economic truth that demand creates supply, and rewards cynical politicians and journalists for misrepresenting what should be a basic reading of the law.

And yet the law does not change, at least not enough to change anything. Covered within the scope of the film are the attempts of two lawmakers, Senator Rhoda Perry and Representative Joanne Giannini, who both have bills that will criminalize or recriminalize elements of what goes on (and what is believed to go on) in Rhode Island AMP spas. Perry's bill criminalizes human trafficking and sex slavery, which I believe are or should be illegal at one level or another. This bill passes, at the end of the film, and is signed by Governor Carcieri, becoming state law. Giannini's bill, a more ambitious measure that would “close the loophole” by recriminalizing indoor prostitution and imposing equal punitive measures on sex workers and johns. This bill fails to pass through committee, and in fact is lampooned by a well-edited sequence of bill opponents testifying against the measure in a hearing.

So what changed? Well, according to Hurley in a question I asked at an early showing of the film on 6 June, basically nothing. The Human Trafficking measure has not led to any prosecutions since its 2007 passage. I would imagine that the police, who so zealously pursue our state's legal sex workers for fire code violations and failure to possess massage licenses, and do so by having sex with them, would have been hard at work collecting damning evidence against actual instances of sex slavery taking place in Rhode Island, the kind of brutality condemned at a meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women, a conference of activists (taking place conveniently the day after 'Heather's' spa is raided) condemning the sex slavery that undoubtedly occurred in Rhode Island, featuring the Mayor himself.

Again, a cynical game. A dishonest debate. A spectacle rather than a resolution. Wherever the debate goes from here, thanks to Tara Hurley and Nick Marcoux for contributing some new data for us all to chew on. Keep up the good work!

Order a copy
of Happy Endings? on its website.

A Little Piece of Good Economic News for RI

According to the Providence Business News, the Rhode Island economic index has risen for the first time since 2007. The current recession has wiped out a decade of growth here in Rhode Island, and we are almost at the levels we were in in 2000. This is a little piece of mind for us Rhode Islanders, as before the month of June, we had the worst economic fall off in the country. The recession hit Rhode Island the hardest, even Michigan had a 10-point higher index then Rhode Island. So what is the reason for this rise in economic index... consumer confidence and building permits. Well I don't think that is sustainable, but hey, good new is good news. What do you all think?

Monday, July 6, 2009

New Bloggers on The Moderate!

Happy Independence Day weekend, everybody!

Well, a day late at least. This was a crazy weekend for the MPRI, canvassing events all over the state, from Bristol to Glocester and everywhere in between! Very exciting stuff, and we look forward to the updated signature total. The Party website status indicator shows 9%, at approximately 3000 collected, but I'm not sure if that's including this weekend or not.

Margaret Paynich would be the one to ask, and the one up all of last night notarizing signature sheets. Margaret's the Lead Organizer of the canvassing operations for the Party, and she's also signed on to contribute to the debate here at The Moderate!

Also, as mentioned in a previous post, Party Chairman Ken Block will also be contributing, alongside Richard Rodi, a very committed Moderate with plans to run for state house district two in 2010, covering a broad swath of downtown and east side Providence. In 2008, Richard ran as a Democrat, challenging a wealthy and powerful incumbent and still taking 42% of the primary vote. With a strong backing, we can definitely put Richard in the General Assembly next year, to get to work reforming the legislature.

Matthew Lenz, a good friend and fellow CCRI political science geek, not to mention a campaign veteran who has worked with both parties in important elections of the past few years, and has found that, like yours truly, he has a home in neither. You'll see Matt and I frequently arguing theory, so check back in for some fun stuff.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Common Sense: 233 Years Later

In 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled Common Sense. Paine wrote the pamphlet in a style that the common individual could understand and argued for the independence of America from British rule. Common Sense answered the questions that lingered among Americans who were caught between supporting the British crown or supporting the revolution. Using common sense examples, Thomas Paine cultivated the spirit of the American revolution that eventually won it's independence from the British crown.

Two-hundred and thirty-three years later we have our own revolution being fought here in Rhode Island. We are not fighting a monarch or aristocracy, instead, we fight a battle of ideas and extremes. Rhode Island is dominated by the Democratic Party and little opposition comes from the opposing Republican Party. Because of this lack of balance, the extreme ideas of the far left are able to slowly climb it's way through the rank and file Democratic Party. Our state spends too much and taxes too high. The ethics of our republic are constantly under attack because there is no one to defend them, no opposition to point out the mistakes of the Democratic Party. In Rhode Island, it should be an opposition gold mine. The elected officials we have now should have been defeated elections ago, Rhode Island should be an opposition gold mine. However, the Republican Party does not support pragmatic ideas that can fix Rhode Island. Instead the party has decided to answerer extremism of the Democratic Party with more extremism of their own.

This battle between two extremes puts Rhode Island voters in a very difficult situation. Election after election we are forced to decide between the lesser of two extremes. Rhode Island, it is time we change the choices that we have. I have been an avid supporter of the Moderate Party and their goal of obtaining ballot access and I do so because of the Moderate Party's belief in centrist government. The Moderate Party does not reach out to the vocal minorities that have taken over both the Democratic and Republican parties. Instead, the Moderate Party reaches out to those in between, those individuals with common sense. When people ask about the Moderate Party I simply reply we are about common sense ideas to fix our state's problems. “Common sense, what a good idea,” they say. This concept that we can have a successful and efficient government by using common sense and pragmatic methodology is something that Rhode Islanders want, and more so, it is what Rhode Island needs.

This is not a violent revolution, this is a revolution of the way Rhode Island does things. Enough with the extremes, look at where it has taken us. We face a rising deficit, failing school systems, and elected officials who violate ethic laws. Now is not the time that we resort to choosing candidates who promote ideas that just make no sense. Now is the time that we stand in the center, now is the time we use common sense to fix the problems we face. Two-hundred and thirty-three years later, this concept of common sense is still relevant and always will be. We all share common beliefs and understandings, let us show those in power that we want pragmatic, common sense ideas to solve our state's problems. Let us choose those who promote the idea that Rhode Island does not have to sit in the backwater of economic security. Let us choose those who promote the idea that Rhode Island can balance a budget, fix its schools, and lower taxes so that business can thrive in our state. Let Rhode Island gain it's spirit of common sense.

With hope,

Matthew D. Lenz

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whoa, busy week!

Hey folks,

I'd hoped to have my review of Happy Endings? up by now, but I'm absolutely swamped with work and studying for my math final exam! That's today, so once its out of the way, I'll be back to delivering important content here on The Moderate. Also we've signed on a couple of important new authors, MPRI Chairman Ken Block and Canvass Director Margaret Paynich, who'll be adding to the conversation!

More to come!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I am looking forward to lively discussion of the politics of Centrism.

A Big Week!

So much going on this week! Monday saw the big MPRI fundraiser featuring Supreme Court Justice and Chairman of the state Board of Regents overseeing educational policy Robert Flanders. Terrific turnout and, if the estimates I've heard are anywhere near correct, an excellent fundraising effort.

Justice Flanders talked about some of the opportunities that Rhode Island has for reforming its educational policy to manage cost and improve outcomes. Some of the issues discussed were regionalization, state-level contracting rather than individual district contracts (which would go hand in hand with some kind of district consolidation), shifting the funding burden more towards the state (and thus reducing the property tax burden in districts), and the possibility of school choice. All in all very interesting stuff, to be looked at very seriously by Moderates.

Party Chairman Ken Block introduced the Judge, and introduced Richard Rodi, currently a Democrat, who is interested in running for office as a Moderate, should the party receive recognition. I'm very excited to announce that Richard will be joining the debate here at the Moderate and will soon be writing with us!

Today we were down at 12 Basset St., in the heart of the Jewelry District, where Rich hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Senior Center, a project his charitable foundation. Ken Block, Margaret Paynich, and Matt Lenz, party hotshots all, were canvassing the event in the presence of Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, who was a defendant in the lawsuit that, well, now allows the MPRI to canvass!

So lots of exciting stuff going on this MPRI universe. On The Moderate this week: A piece on Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' by new contributor Matthew Lenz, a review by yours truly of controversial documentary Happy Endings? about indoor prostitution in Rhode Island, and the third installment of my All Things in Moderation series, this time about brand-building in politics after Obama '08.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Canvass Begins!

The canvass has officially begun! The MPRI has put together books of signature sheets for every canvassing district in the state so that committed folks can get the signatures needed for official recognition.

If you're interested in helping out the Moderate Party by doing some canvassing, visit the Party's contact page here.

Also check out the cute graph on the homepage. Keep your eyes on it, since it won't be at 0% forever!

If you'd like to sign, stay tuned to The Moderate. We'll be publishing events and functions where canvassers will be present so that you can make your voice heard.