Nocera, a Providence native who did not return a call for comment, may have erred elsewhere in the column, too. He quotes Brien suggesting that a receiver would be able to force changes to an unsustainable public pension system. And then he adds this commentary: "Here's the rub. Pensions are not the core problem in Woonsocket. Yes, Woonsocket has a pension shortfall, but it is more manageable than many other places and has almost nothing to do with the current crisis."

But journalist Josh Barro, in a piece on the Bloomberg web site, writes that Nocera is "wrong, wrong, wrong." Drawing on the work of WPRI-TV blogger Ted Nesi, Barro notes that Woonsocket is the state's most indebted city, relative to its tax property base.

And while the local pension plan may look relatively healthy — compared to the dismal state of other pension plans in the state — that's because the city poured a whole bunch of bond money into the system. The municipality, in other words, has simply converted its pension debt into bond debt.

The shame, here, is that there are real critiques to be made from the left — critiques of ALEC and critiques of an anti-union austerity that can go too far. Nocera misses a chance to make that critique with a poorly chosen target.

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