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Bob Whitcomb’s Digital Diary: Catholic Church, Wells Fargo, and Rabbi Gutterman

Friday, September 30, 2016


Dealing with drought; annals of corporate corruption; Connecticut bypass; then don’t be a Catholic

"I love the fall.  I love it because of the smells that you speak of; and also because things are dying, things that you don't have to take care of anymore, and the grass stops growing."

--  Mark Van Doren (1894-1972), American poet and scholar


Global warming doesn’t just mean rising sea levels, which threaten the New England coast, particularly the low, flatter section of it in southeastern New England. It also means more extremes in weather, from drought to floods.

Parts of New England, especially in the south, are now starting to resemble Greater Los Angeles--- green where  watered by people, brown and dusty elsewhere. Reservoirs are way down, and well water in many places is threatened.

The states  understandably don’t have comprehensive ways to monitor well-water supplies and the condition of aquifers, let alone know what to do when  many wells go dry, except, of course, urge conservation.

Scientists have been predicting that weather would become more erratic with global warming, and that seems to happening. In temperate zones this probably means more droughts  interspersed with stretches of very heavy rainfall.

Of course, New England has had droughts before. But they have tended not be accompanied by particularly high temperatures. (Long summer droughts in the ‘60s came along with frequent cool northwest winds.) That seems to be changing. Now we get more hot days (and remarkably warm nights – a better indication of global warming than daytime temperatures). Thus faster evaporation.

Natural-resource managers and the public need new plans to address the drought part of climate change. But at least New England will remain better watered, and have a milder climate, than most of the United States. Indeed, we may end up selling some of it to points south and west.




It seems that many corporate leaders have lost all sense of shame in their relentless Trumpian greed and selfishness. When I covered business in the ‘70s, the big company executive suites and their boards at least made an effort to appear civic-minded. But now the goal of all too many executives is to loot as much as they can and then leave, with gigantic golden parachutes assured by the goodies they provide to the board. They worry little about the public reaction.

The public’s attention is drawn far more to corruption by public officials than it is corporate corruption, in part because the former is much easier for our dwindling number of journalists to cover. But corporate sleaze can often do far more damage than the public-sector variety.

Consider Mylan, the huge drug company led by Heather Bresch, whose father, Joe Machin, is a West Virginia politician and now a U.S. senator from the state. Mylan  has long been adept at using its political connections  in Washington to boost its business. Most infamously it has used its virtual monopoly to jack up the price of EpiPens, used to treat severe allergic reactions, by 461 percent.  Meanwhile, it has (quite legally) moved its official headquarters to the  Netherlands to avoid  U.S. taxes but continues to be run from Pennsylvania.

Along the way, Ms. Bresch took care of board members endearingly enough so that they raised her compensation 671 percent from 2007 to 2015 --  to $18,931,068 from  $2,453,456.

In other drug-company news are belated reports of how drug companies have been major culprits in the opiate crisis. They pushed the idea that there was a “pain crisis’’ in America to justify marketing massive quantities of opiates for chronic pain (usually treatable with less dangerous drugs and even exercise) instead of for such serious stuff as cancer, severe injuries and post-major-surgery relief, as had traditionally been the case. A prime villain in this was a dubious industry group called The Pain Care Forum, which hyped opiate use to physicians.

Then there’s Well Fargo’s CEO (since 2007), John Stumpf, who has presided over a giant fraud at his huge bank: The bank set up 2 million phony accounts in existing customers’ names to boost the company’s stock price, to which, of course, is tied to Mr. Stumpf’s compensation.

While testifying to Congress last week about this fraud, he implied he hadn’t known it was going on. That is implausible, to say the least. Meanwhile, Carrie Tolstedt, the woman who headed the division where the fraud happened, is leaving with a golden parachute worth up to $125 million.  As usual, lower-level employees, who had been pressured to  meet extravagant sales quotas, took the fall; 5,300 were fired.

I was amused on Monday, when looking up some biographical material in Wikipedia about Mr. Stump, to see that he was identified thus:

“John Gerard Stumpf (born September 15, 1953)[4] is an American business executive Crook and retail banker’’. Whoever slid in the word “Crook’’ is a stickler for accuracy. I assume that the Wikipedists will have deleted “Crook’’ by the time you read this.

Mr. Stumpf has been a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Again, the seamless web of big-company execs and Washington pols.

What an irony that as Americans are waking up again to how much more corrupt corporate America has become that they are seriously considering making Donald Trump, whose business career, from its start when his rich  and ethically challenged father bankrolled him, has been rife with scams, cheating, lying, bigotry and occasional frauds. That he has made a lot of his money by selling his wares to wishful-thinking suckers who patronized his casinos (a deeply corrupt industry) or socially insecure folks who wanted the “prestige’’ of living in one of his tacky, glittery hotels is icing on the cake. His close  business connections with other crooks, particularly Russia’s murderous and kleptocratic dictator, Vladimir Putin, raise some other issues.

Mr. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., speaking at a real estate conference in New York in 2008:  “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” No wonder Mr. Trump won’t release his tax returns!

Thus we have the ethical state of some of American big business in the early 21st Century.




Many (most?) American politicians (including Hillary Clinton)  now say that they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with Asia. They’re making a mistake. While this is officially unstated, the deal is meant to, among other things, bolster the economies and security of some Asian nations so that they can defend themselves from an increasingly aggressive and expansionist China. Too many Americans think that the TPP includes China, which has used currency  manipulation, intellectual-property theft and other nasty strategies to hollow out parts of the U.S. economy. China is not part of the TPP!

More business reporters please.




Let’s hope that the opposition of a few mostly affluent people near the Connecticut coast is not permitted to block construction of a long-needed 50-mile bypass  (to reduce the number of curves and choke points) that would finally let Amtrak offer the high-speed train service common in much of the rest of the Developed World.

America’s decrepit transportation infrastructure and failure to install true high-speed rail has hurt the nation’s competitive position, kept far too many people on our crowded roads and hurt the environment (trains are much less polluting than cars and tracks take up much less space than highways).

The bypass would not only let Amtrak trains go much faster; it would allow a major improvement in commuter train service.

This improvement, of  course, would be a boon for most everyone in southern New England.




Being a member of the Catholic Church is a voluntary matter, at least for adults. The Church has rules. One is: Don’t marry someone of the same sex. The Roman Catholic  Diocese of Providence has fired its music director, Michael Templeton, for marrying another man. This has created the usually politically correct outcry demanding his reinstatement.

Mr. Templeton can go join another denomination whose views on gay marriage meet with his approval.  Why do we increasingly demand that PRIVATE organizations hew to the fashion of the day? Surely there’s a little space left for voluntary organizations to set their own rules.

If you’d don’t like Catholic theology, then don’t be a Catholic. At this point, people drag in the fact that many Catholic priests are gay. So what?




RIP: Arnold Palmer, whom a couple of other folks and I had dinner with in Orlando in 1971 as Disney World was about to open. And my father and I watched him swing and smoke his way through the U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline back in 1963, one of the few big golf tournaments I had the pleasure of attending. I wish I had spent more time in “Arnie’s Army.’’

What a charming man.


Digital Diary Bulletin Board

A gala will be held on Saturday, Oct. 29,  from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Providence Marriott  Downtown, at the intersection of Charles and Orms streets, to celebrate the shared 40th anniversary of Hope Hospice and Palliative Care Rhode Island and the Marriott, in “An Evening of Hope & Hospitality’."

As the event’s organizers note: “Together, we’ve worked closely throughout the years to provide hope and hospitality and look forward to remaining an important part of the Rhode Island community.’’ Leslie Gutterman, senior rabbi emeritus of Providence’s Temple Beth-El and a noted writer (and, unofficially, entertainer), will be the master of ceremonies.

All proceeds from the event will benefit Hope Hospice & Palliative Care Rhode Island. To learn about sponsorship opportunities, please call (401) 415-4296 and/or check:




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