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March 20, 2011, 5:46 p.m.

Ex-Eth­ics Com­mis­sion ex­ec. dir. Sara Quinn filed an eth­ics com­plaint against ex-state Sen. Frank Car­pio Sr. 10/12.

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“The com­plaint tar­gets” Caprio’s role as Board of Govs for High­er Educ. chair in hir­ing ex-state Rep. Vin­cent Mesolella’s wife Donna Mesolella to a $41K po­s­i­tion at the Com­munity Col­lege of RI. “A month later” the Mesolel­las co-hos­ted a fun­draiser at their home “that raised an es­tim­ated” $30K for Treas. Frank Caprio Jr.’s (D) GOV camp. “The Caprios said polit­ics had noth­ing to do with her hir­ing.”

But Quinn “said that when Caprio Sr. handed the re­sume of the wife of one of his son’s ‘long-stand­ing polit­ic­al con­trib­ut­ors’ to a ‘dir­ect sub­or­din­ate,’ who serves at the pleas­ure of the board that he chairs, he had ‘an in­terest in sub­stan­tial con­flict with the prop­er dis­charge of his du­ties.’”

Quinn “said it ap­peared to her that Caprio Sr. ‘was run­ning a back-door em­ploy­ment agency, and he is us­ing pub­lic jobs with pub­lic funds to provide em­ploy­ment to people to whom he is per­son­ally con­nec­ted.’”

Caprio Jr. mgr. Xay Kham­sy­voravong “said the can­did­ate did not in­tend to re­appoint his fath­er to the chair­man­ship should he be­come gov­ernor, and viewed the eth­ics com­plaint filed by Quinn … as a ‘thinly veiled at­tempt by the Chafee cam­paign to dis­tance (him) from his at­tempt to raise taxes and fail­ure to pay his own.’”

Ex-GOP Sen. Lin­coln Chafee’s (I) “poin­ted to the fil­ing … as evid­ence of the kind of cronyism that has ‘cast a shad­ow’ over the state.” Chafee also “brought to light” Caprio Sr.’s “role in se­cur­ing” a $25K “le­gis­lat­ive grant for his son’s” private school, while the seni­or Caprio was still a state sen.

“The grant that Caprio won for the private French-Amer­ic­an School” of RI “was lar­ger than al­most every oth­er grant state law­makers awar­ded that year to their loc­al Little Leagues, Boys & Girls clubs and lit­er­acy vo­lun­teers” (Gregg, Provid­ence Journ­al, 10/13).

Don’t For­get What He Did!

Caprio “is ask­ing” the RI Di­vi­sion of Tax­a­tion “to ‘con­duct a re­view of all Rhode Is­land polit­ic­al cam­paigns’ to find out if any­one — oth­er than” Chafee — “owes any back taxes on the in­terest earn­ings of their cam­paign ac­counts.”

Caprio, in a state­ment: “How are there politi­cians who have got­ten off the hook for not pay­ing thou­sands in taxes when gov­ern­ment’s held the rest of us ac­count­able down to the penny? There aren’t two sets of rules; our elec­ted of­fi­cials should be held to the same stand­ards our small busi­nesses and tax­pay­ers are” (Gregg, Provid­ence Journ­al, 10/12).

Only The Coolest Govs. Are Do­ing It

Chafee, in a state­ment 10/10 said that the “state needs to mod­ern­ize its in­form­a­tion tech­no­lo­gies to make” gov’t more trans­par­ent, ef­fi­cient and it’s ser­vices easi­er to use.

In ad­di­tion to al­low­ing voters to sched­ule DMV ap­point­ments re­new their drivers’ li­censes on­line, Chafee “also pro­posed the use of Gov­Loop, a so­cial-net­work site for gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees that he said would al­low ‘Rhode Is­land to learn from ex­ist­ing solu­tions and share best prac­tices, both ex­tern­ally and in­tern­ally.’”

“He also called for the use of See­Click­Fix — a free mo­bile phone and web” app “that lets cit­izens identi­fy non-emer­gency is­sues in their neigh­bor­hoods and re­port them to” the gov’t (Reyn­olds, Provid­ence Journ­al, 10/13).

Some in Wash­ing­ton want to know what the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment “wants.” I don’t pre­tend to know and — re­fresh­ingly — neither do those in the streets, not spe­cific­ally. They know what they are against — eco­nom­ic in­equal­ity — but have yet to be­gin to define what they are for, why they are for it, and how they might try to achieve it.

But they are out there. There are al­most as many protest loc­a­tions as there are Su­per 8 mo­tels or Ap­ple­bee’s res­taur­ants. In Man­hat­tan, the main Oc­cupy Wall Street camp now of­fers yoga.

It would be easy to clas­si­fy all this as trivi­al. And yet, the protests show no signs of let­ting up. Con­gress will have to take heed soon­er or later. Tues­day’s protests in the Hart Build­ing, I sus­pect, are just the be­gin­ning.

Again, I don’t know what the “oth­er 99 per­cent” want, but I do have a sense that mis­trust of Amer­ica’s big banks has less to do with the Wall Street bail­out and much more to do with this na­tion’s on­go­ing res­id­en­tial real-es­tate crisis. The Troubled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram (TARP) has dis­bursed $411 bil­lion and has re­ceived $278 bil­lion back from bail­out re­cip­i­ents and earned $39 bil­lion in di­vidends, in­terest pay­ments, and stock war­rants. Roughly $94 bil­lion is out­stand­ing. Is “the oth­er 99 per­cent” go­ing to jail over $94 bil­lion? I sus­pect not.

However, the “oth­er” bail­out may be driv­ing dis­con­tent — in the streets and in the quiet liv­ing rooms where Amer­ic­ans fear­ing fore­clos­ure might nod in si­lent agree­ment with the dis­or­gan­ized plea for eco­nom­ic justice.

Six mil­lion homeown­ers are 30 days be­hind on their mort­gage pay­ments or in fore­clos­ure pro­ceed­ings. One quarter of all mort­gages are un­der­wa­ter; in oth­er words, the loan value is high­er than the home price. Across the na­tion, homeown­ers un­der­wa­ter cu­mu­lat­ively owe up to $800 bil­lion more than their homes are worth.

Two eco­nom­ics pro­fess­ors, Atif Mi­an of the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Berke­ley) and Amir Sufi of the Uni­versity of Chica­go, ana­lyzed data from 238 counties with more than 100,000 res­id­ents and found that eco­nom­ic growth has lagged dread­fully in counties with high house­hold debt com­pared to those with low house­hold debt. Auto sales, res­id­en­tial in­vest­ment growth, job growth, and dur­able goods pur­chases all lagged in high-debt counties com­pared to low-debt counties.

It’s true that the high-debt counties prob­ably over­sat­ur­ated their real-es­tate mar­kets, thereby at­tract­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of con­struc­tion-re­lated jobs that have been dif­fi­cult to re­place. But those are yes­ter­day’s eco­nom­ic de­cisions. Today’s eco­nom­ic real­ity is that the hous­ing crisis per­sists, wealth has de­clined, debts fright­en homeown­ers from buy­ing and in­vest­ing and, in all like­li­hood, para­lys­is will per­sist un­less Wash­ing­ton does something.

You might be say­ing to your­self, Wait, didn’t the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion start all these mort­gage modi­fic­a­tion pro­grams? It did. The res­ults? Puny.

And this brings us back, pos­sibly, to the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment. TARP is the poster child bail­out. With­in it, $45.6 bil­lion was set aside for mort­gage re­lief. So far, only $7.6 bil­lion has been spent and only one in four ap­plic­ants has had a mort­gage mod­i­fied. Of some 1.6 mil­lion tri­al modi­fic­a­tions star­ted, 657,044 (about 40 per­cent) have been per­man­ently mod­i­fied while more than 860,000 (roughly 53 per­cent) were can­celed at the tri­al modi­fic­a­tion stage or after ap­prov­al.

What’s cru­cial is that bail­out funds aimed at the real-es­tate black hole haven’t been spent (where­as as those to res­cue bank bal­ance sheets up­front were). Moreover, big banks have can­celed more loan modi­fic­a­tions than they have ap­proved. When you be­gin to won­der what’s driv­ing anti-Wall Street, this might seems like the bull’s-eye.

One last point, the “oth­er” bail­out is of Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac. The gov­ern­ment-backed (to be pre­cise, na­tion­al­ized) loan en­tit­ies own 90 per­cent of all res­id­en­tial mort­gages and is now $141 bil­lion in the red. The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice said tax­pay­er ex­pos­ure could grow to $317 bil­lion. There is scant con­fid­ence these funds, un­like the TARP funds, will be paid back in part or full.

For a Con­gress that’s de­voted scant at­ten­tion to this eco­nom­ic calam­ity, op­por­tun­ity and per­il await.

In 1971, Mar­vin Gaye sang Make Me Wanna Holler, which has these lyr­ics: “Oh, make you wanna holler “¦The way they do my life “¦ Make me wanna holler “¦ The way they do my life.”

No one in Oc­cupy Wall Street, so far as I know, is singing Make Me Wanna Holler. But for mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans trapped in the real-es­tate mael­strom, holler­ing may be close at hand.

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