Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Return to the State of My Birth

There's no place like home for the holidays.

Here in Rhode Island, it's not much different than the rest of the country: busy streets, crowded grocery stores and shopping centers, and slam packed restaurants. Economists say that relatively speaking the recession has hit the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations harder than 49 other states, boasting a mind-numbing 12% unemployment rate, and posting continuous declines in population each year. The days of healthy economic growth have been absent here for quite some time - going back to the era when blue collar workers were paid honest wages for a days work. (Have to wonder why it still takes 30 minutes to an hour to get a table for some food around here?)

Driving around the state, you can clearly see the signs of a declining economy. Boarded up store fronts, empty and vacated auto repair shops, once-crowded diners whose burners have gone cold - they provide the visible part of the downfall. Yet, the true despair lies in the stories and people living beyond the naked eye, specifically in the form of home foreclosures, evictions, and the loss of jobs and businesses which have ruthlessly attacked this state at its very core.

At one time, Rhode Island was known as the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution", leading the nation in the manufacturing of textiles, toolmaking, costume jewelry, and silverware. Naturally, those aren't the kinds of jobs you find here today, having been eliminated by domestic and overseas outsourcing, and obsolescence. Quite unfortunately, the State also has one of the highest rates of taxation you will find in the union, making Rhode Island an unattractive opportunity for companies to bring their business, money and jobs.

My wife and I moved to Washington, DC about a year ago because we could not risk the unstable nature of the economic climate here. Proof of this is easy to find, you can see it in the eyes of the people here that times are tough. The iconic Big Blue Bug in Providence still wears his red Rudolph nose, but sadly you can see a small tear forming in his large, cracking yellow eye. Rhode Island is hurting, the people are hurting, and the state government is oblivious and loathe to fix it. The business environment is in decline, the political arena is toxic, the taxes are through the roof, and the job pool is heavily loaded with skilled trade workers and other functional, line-level personnel. The answer to this problem is complicated, yet simple. Although, I fear, it's one that this state will never embrace.

Here is what I propose:
  • Eliminate the state income tax for anyone making under $250,000 per year. For those families who exceed that amount, reduce the income taxes by 50-60%. Provide tax relief to workers to keep them here in the state, and give incentive to corporations to move their businesses here by offering a competitive tax program.
  • Construct three toll booths: two on I-95 (at the CT/RI line in the south and the MA/RI line in the north), and one on I-195 at the MA/RI line. Charge tolls in either direction. If the system can get linked up to EasyPass, they can charge $1/axel for RI residents, and $2.50/axel for non-RI residents who use it. This will reposition an enormous amount of tax burden off of Rhode Islanders, and onto other transients and tourists who take advantage of the roads and services of this state.
  • Dissect every public program that is offered and paid for via state funds. Cut the budget by a factor of 50%. Prioritize only the absolutely essential programs. Disseminate ALL wasted state funds.
  • Eliminate the state payroll tax for small businesses with less than 10 employees, or annual revenue under $500,000. Corporations who legitimately relocate to Rhode Island from another state may apply to receive a 5 year moratorium on all payroll taxes.
  • Establish a program to assist unemployed workers to get additional training and education, and job placement. Require a payback program for those people who take advantage of state funds.
Lower taxes. Better incentives. Accelerate growth. Reeducate the general populace. Create jobs.

This is a beautiful state, with tremendous pride and incredible unleashed potential. Roger Williams, the founder of this great state once said, "the greatest crime in the world is not developing your potential. When you do what you do best, you are not only helping yourself, but helping the world." From the beaches of Block Island and Southeast Light, to the ballroom at the top of the Biltmore Hotel; from the steps of the mansions of Newport, to the quaint village of Wickford; from Watch Hill to Barrington, Scituate to Sakonnet. It's just like they say, good things come in small packages.

It's long past due for Rhode Island to make some drastic changes. I just hope that someday the people here will see it the same way. All we can do is Hope.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rock it Acapella

It's not often anymore that I get sucked into a television program, especially the "high-drama" reality shows that are a dime-a-dozen these days. After a few years of suffering through American Idol, KidNation, Hells Kitchen, More to Love and Dating in the Dark, I can say that I no longer need the addiction, and I'm getting off the crack (so to speak).

Yet, it seems that each time I say that, a new idea is born. I'm addicted to a new crack this time.

Sing Off rules.

This is no Idol (even though it desperately tries to be!). I'll be the first to admit that Nick Lechey is a first rate loser, and a terrible choice for Emcee of the 4-day event. Yet, at the same time, I think that what he leaves to desire, the show more than makes up for in interest. In fact, I'll say I'm actually glad they chose an emotionless, no-talent ass clown as a host, because he can't overshadow the raw talent of the contestants. So good call by the producers (even if the only reason he's there is because they couldn't get Ryan Seacrest). They also chose the three-judge format (a la Idol), and one dimly lit bulb in the form of Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls (Paula Abdul).

Essentially the show is a contest of musical talent, with the human voice as the only instrument allowed - otherwise known as Acapella. It's a lost art, if you ask me, but thankfully shows like Glee and Sing Off are bringing it back to center stage.

So here's my opinions on each group - whatever they're worth. If you don't like them, you know what you can do.

Face - (eliminated) Even though they were eliminated on the first show, and their wardrobe choices were questionable at best, you have to give these guys credit. One guy was a chiropractor, another worked at a bank, another was a FedEx delivery guy - they were real people with families and full-time jobs. Their rendition of Living on a Prayer didn't carry them beyond one performance, but you still have to hand it to them for a solid effort.


Solo -(eliminated) A downtrodden group from an impoverished section of Omaha, these guys had heart. They sang "Whatcha Say" by Jason Derulo, and they sang it quite well. Also, they were the only all-black group in the competition. They just didn't have the glitz and glamour of the other competitors. I know it was hard for the judges to send these guys home - but I certainly hope they keep it up. They got potential.


Noteworthy - (eliminated) Nine mormon girls from Provo, Utah. Good beat boxing, decent lead, but twangy and high-pitched as hell. They needed a deeper voice in there to make a solid run for the gold.

Maxx Factor - (eliminated) Four classy, suburban "soccer moms" united to form a barbershop quartet. They were the black sheep of the group, but managed to survive two rounds of elimination before finally getting cut. They were pretty good too! Judges Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman obviously liked their style enough to keep them around.

Maxx Factor

The Socals - (eliminated) I loved these guys. Their lead was awesome, energy awesome, and song selection was on spot. They killed "Nothings Gonna Stop Us" by Starship and "Somebody to Love" by Queen. It was the judge's "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles that got them axed, which I think was a bit of a cheap shot, because that did NOT match their style of music. In my opinion, they deserved to go one more round in the place of Voices of Lee. It was perhaps the first wrong call the judges made on the show.

The Socals

The rest of the contestants will be elected by America by number of votes (Idol again? sheesh).

Voices of Lee - Don't get me wrong, these kids are spirited, talented, and they can all sing. They come from a small religious school in Tennessee, and they're a pleasure to watch. But they will be the first one's out on Monday - guaranteed. They just don't have the level of talent to rise above the last two.
Voices of Lee
Beelzebubs - Truly fantastic. These 12 guys are charismatic, creative, entertaining, and everything you could possibly want in a musical stage entertainer. The crux of their problem is in their ability to win a competition that awards the winner a Sony record contract. While they are certainly a lot of fun to listen to, their true strength is in their multi-media stage presence. If you don't actually SEE the Beelzebubs, you miss so much of their talent and charm. Case in point is their If America agrees with me, they should go on and put together a road show with their routine, or perhaps even Broadway. It would be an instant hit, and I'd pay good money to see it.


Nota - Hands down the most talented of all the performers. These guys from Puerto Rico have the sound you want to hear on disc. Clearly they can put it together, as displayed in their rendition of Down. They have a falsetto lead, and probably one of the best beat box drums I've ever heard. These guys are sick. The sound is seemless, natural, and highly entertaining. But admittedly, they aren't much to look at.

They say that the handsome guys get elected President - it will be interesting to see if the same holds true for Acapella.

The final show airs Monday night 12/21 at 8:00pm. Thanks NBC for bringing some half way decent programming to the screen. Even if we have to listen to Nick Lechey.