Whitcomb: Leaf Blower Hell Is Coming, Honoring the Coast Guard; ‘Free’ Transit Experiment

Sunday, August 28, 20,22


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Robert Whitcomb, columnist

Privilege is the accursed power

It works with Women, Champagne, and Bridge.

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Broke and Democracy re-established their reign

(Which goes with Champagne, Women and Bridge).                                                                

— “On a General Election,’’ by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), Anglo-French writer                                                                                                                    



“My memory is a card shark, reshuffling the deck to hide what I fear to know, unable to keep from fingering the ace at the bottom of the deck even when I’m doing nothing more than playing fish in the daylight with children.”                        

Lorene Cary (born 1956), American educator, author



Many people enjoyed torrential downpours on Tuesday which brought green back to the ground, trees, and soil. It was a welcome relief after the severe drought. It was like a second spring.




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Leaf Blower PHOTO: GoLocal

The end of summer is coming. You should not use leaf/dirt blowers. They are God-awful. Don’t use them and don’t hire “landscaping”Companies that use them.


Click this link for more information about the impact







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Coast Guard PHOTO: USCG

The long-awaited National Coast Guard Museum will be located in New London. Construction has finally begun. The facility will have interactive and immersive exhibits. Construction is expected start in 2024.


Given the Coast Guard’s age – it was founded in 1790 – and sometimes exciting activities, it’s surprising that such a museum hasn’t yet gone up.


It can be described as maritime security (watching out for enemy submarines, etc.), search-and-rescue and anti-crime activities (against smugglers, bootleggers, etc.).


Then there’s chasing drunk weekend boaters.



Semi-Tropical Splendor in L.C.

Sakonnet Garden, a hidden and exotic creation in Little Compton, R.I., created by a couple of friends of ours, has some semi-tropical plants that, with a little protection during coastal southern New England’s shortening winters, seem to thrive.


That makes me wonder if we’ll see many more semi-tropical plants along the coast even within the lifetimes of people who are now middle-aged as the climate continues to warm, though some of the plants might still need burlap coats to protect them from cold winds in January and February.





There’s nothing new about drunkenness and brawls at or originating from Ballard’s on Block Island!  It’s been going on for years. Its most dangerous aspect is that it’s next to the ferry.



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Fare-Free-Transit Experiment


Never waste a crisis


The MBTA’s month-long Orange Line train shutdown to do dangerously overdue repairs and maintenance, while a royal pain for many, is also providing some transit experiments that may pay off in the long run as examples for Greater Boston and beyond.


This includes shuttle bus rides that are free of charge during the shutdown. These are a pleasant surprise for commuters, or at the very least, they reduce their irritation.


These are also very popular among travelers. “free” (i.e., partially subsidized by the region’s taxpayers) rides offered on the T’s commuter rail system. Passengers will need a Charlie Card to ride the commuter train system within zone 1 and 1A. Bluebikes offers free passes to the Orange Line Shutdown, thanks in part to the subsidies provided by HYM Investment Group, which is building the Government Center Garage project in the middle of Boston. (Actually, I’ve taken quite a few MBTA commuter trips to and fro Boston in the past few years during which no conductor asked to see tickets, at least in my car. Bad management.


Can fare-free transit and the associated reduction in congestion (with road repairs and enforcement that go with it) more than make up for the loss in fares These attributes could lead to higher property-tax and state income tax sales-tax revenues. Perhaps the Orange Line shutdown could provide some clues. These environmental benefits are even more obvious.






Can developers get tax stabilization agreements that are loved by local government officials in Rhode Island and elsewhere to benefit? It seems fair to me. The TSA’s are offered, of course, to try to lure jobs.


Keep an eye out for tenants who may be eligible for these benefits.



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President Joe Biden

Toxic Loans

Whatever you think of the Biden administration’s sprawling plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loans per person and make other changes in the complex student-loan system – too much, not enough? – it’s important to remember how the student-loan mess got so bad.


These include universities and colleges with high-paid executives who raise tuitions more than the general inflation. This is partly due to the fact that states have cut funding for higher education. Higher college enrollments can also be attributed to the false notion that everyone should go to college. Prior to the pandemic, earnings growth was very slow at the top. Then there’s the dearth of vocational education in well-paying trades that would let people more quickly pay off their loans.


These are important issues policymakers should be considering.


I doubt if the Biden plan will fuel a lot of inflation but I’m made uncomfortable by the idea of letting a lot of people skate away from debts that they had promised to repay.  It discourages planning and discipline. The Biden plan can help debtors with the financial resources and family support to quickly pay off their loans.



What about those who didn’t go to college, or who have already paid off their loans.



Public subsidized goodies are often a strange and unfair quilt. Consider the tax code which favors capital gains over earned income and provides massive bailouts to Wall Street traders for crises they cause.


However, millions of people will feel less anxious by the loan-forgiveness program.




Before the Gate Comes Down

We’ve been through several big housing-price booms and busts over the past half-century. Real-estate agents are eager to make 6 per cent commissions and send lots of offers and promotions to homeowners from middle and upper-class neighborhoods to help them sell their homes. Agents pay particular attention to elderly homeowners (ages of these homeowners are public records). Their age (and relative decline?) It is important to consider this factor. Their age may make them more likely to sell and downsize. (We get more of these pitches.


The agents (calling them the ugly term “Realtors”) try to do as many sales as they can before a recession.



To the Highest Bidders

Secret “Dark Money,’’ from very rich people, most of it going to pump up the GOPQ with the aim of making the extremely rich even richer and more powerful, has been flowing like Niagara since the far-right-controlled U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, put America on sale to the highest bidders in its Citizens United ruling, in 2010.

The latest example is:


Barre Seid, an electronics mogul aged 90, has made arrangements for a new. “nonprofit” group called Marble Freedom Trust to get $1.6 billion from the sale of Mr. Seid’s company to use to promote extremist “conservative’’ candidates. (Whenever I see the word “Freedom”’ in the name of such a group, I ask “freedom”Whom is it for?


The money is already being pumped into the current mid-term election campaigns and in continuing efforts to pack state and federal courts  with judges who further consolidate the hold that plutocratic campaign contributors have on much public policy.


Leonard Leo is a right-wing extremist/influencebroker who has many connections with GOPQ donors and politicians. The Marble Freedom Trust was established.


And in the time-dishonored tradition of too many of the very rich avoiding paying taxes to the country whose public services and physical infrastructure helped make them rich, the sale was apparently structured to let both the “nonprofit’’ group and Mr. Seid avoid paying taxes on the proceeds. It’s not publicly known what sort of fees Mr. Leo now earns in his efforts to make fat cats fatter in a country with the Developed World’s widest income inequality.


But I suppose if I were the cynical advertising director of a big media outlet I might well be happy with the prospect of all that revenue coming from Mr. Leo’s propaganda empire in campaign ads.



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Putin PHOTO: Kremlin News Service

False Flag in Moscow?

Who was responsible for the death of Daria Dugin, a Putin propagandist, by a car bomb in Moscow She’s the daughter of crazy “philosopher’’ Alexander Dugin, who wants (like his beloved leader Putin) to reestablish the Russian Empire, in all its tyrannical glory, and who has created a following abroad, including in America, of those who say they hate the practices of the “decadent West”.  His political views are a bizarre mix of Stalinism and  the Czarism of “Holy Russia.’’



Ms. Dugin was an enthusiastic proponent of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as is her father.


The killing of the Ukrainian security forces is being blamed by the Putin regime. And yet Putin himself could have had her killed as  an excuse to further tighten his dictatorship and redouble his assault on Ukraine. He and Soviet leaders have used false flag attacks in the past for justification of invasions of neighboring countries and suppression domestic dissent.

Follow this link:


One thinks of the fire in the German parliament building (the Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933, which the Nazis, who had recently come to power, blamed on Communists, but which Hitler’s people were probably responsible for. He used the fire to suspend civil liberty in his quest for total power.


On the other side, the Daria Dugin assassination could have been committed by anti-Putin Russians. Maybe we’ll never know.



Gay Rights and Gum

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has announced that the city-state would repeal a law that criminalizes sex between men but emphasized that gay marriage was not on the agenda in a place known for its traditionalist views.

“We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional mores of our society, and the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted,”He said. He knows that Singapore is a major financial and trading center. However, its permanent residents are more conservative socially. Tricky!


A famous Singapore law that won’t change soon.

The sale of chewing gum in Singapore has been illegal since 1992, with, since 2004, an exception for certain therapeutic situations — e.g., dental issues and anti-nicotine-craving gum  – after approval by a healthcare professional. It’s not illegal to chew gum in Singapore, but it is against the law to import it and sell it, apart from the aforementioned exceptions.


Singapore is against litter


Seems a tad onerous but….clean is nice.


This reminds me of a high-energy cousin of mine, a merchant banker, who was based in Singapore for a couple of years and couldn’t wait to move to much grittier, louder and more colorful Hong Kong. He called Singapore “very boring.’’ Or too clean and orderly?


Reunited by Death

God knows the World Wide Web has been filled with horror stories. Sometimes, however, you will find something unexpectedly good on the Internet. This was before Timothy Berners Lee invented this monster in 1990.


One example is a friend from my International Herald Tribune days. ‘80s, died recently at 97. I was also informed by someone about an IHT alumni page on Facebook. I joined it immediately and was drawn into anecdotes about Arthur Higbee. A calm and charming editor (who almost never removed his tweed sports jacket), and not a bad pianist, too. But more than that, I was brought up to date on the doings of other former co-workers who are very much still alive but about whom I haven’t heard for decades.


For ancient reasons, a bunch have connections with the Stonington, Conn., area, which has long drawn publishing types – in journalism, book publishing, poetry, novel writing, advertising and so on – some of whose characters I’m familiar with. Through the Higbee postmortem, I was able to connect with several of them.


I wish I’d done all this much earlier.

Robert Whitcomb is an experienced editor. Among his jobs, he has served as the finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, in Paris; as a vice president and the editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal; as an editor and writer in New York for The Wall Street Journal,  and as a writer for the Boston Herald Traveler (RIP). He has co-authored many books, scripts, and written news stories for magazines and newspapers over the years. Cape Wind.



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Whitcomb: Leaf Blower Hell Is Coming, Honoring the Coast Guard; ‘Free’ Transit Experiment

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