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Robert Whitcomb: Opportunity Cost, Continued; Vague Stadium ‘Animal Spirits’; Don’t Let Them Vote

Monday, June 05, 2017

 

Robert Whitcomb

Opportunity Cost, Continued; Vague Stadium ‘Animal Spirits’; Don’t Let Them Vote; Medicare at 55

 

"This is June, the month of grass and leaves. The deciduous trees are investing the evergreens and revealing how dark they are. Already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me. I feel a little fluttered in my thoughts, as if I might be too late. Each season is but an infinitesimal point. It no sooner comes than it is gone. It has no duration.’’

 

-- Henry David Thoreau 

 

As Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pushes a plan to phase out the state’s car tax, few are asking about the opportunity cost of doing so.

 

For example, could the car-tax revenue be used to reduce business taxes, which would fuel more jobs? Could it be used to improve Rhode Island’s still crummy transportation infrastructure? Or its public education? Most everyone hates taxes, but most also want well-maintained roads, safe bridges and good schools. In any case, as more people use Uber and other ride-hailing services instead of owning cars,  and the population ages, car-tax revenue may be destined to fall anyway.

 

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Larry Lucchino, PawSox

Larry Lucchino, chairman of the Pawtucket Red Sox, sent me an article from MLB.com the other week in response to my skepticism that baseball will continue to be popular enough to financially justify the public’s investment in a new baseball stadium in Pawtucket over the next 30 years. The first part of the article, which you can read by hitting this link

“NEW YORK -- Baseball and softball had nearly 25 million combined participants last year, more than any team sport in the United States, Major League Baseball announced during its quarterly Owners Meetings on Thursday {May 18}.

“The finding came from an annual report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which also showed a notable increase in participation for youth baseball and softball.

“’Those numbers are really good news for us,’ Commissioner Rob Manfred said after the meetings adjourned. ‘We feel they're related to the investment baseball has been making through the Play Ball initiative. And, in fairness, even before that, in terms of the Major League Academies and the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) that began under Commissioner Bud Selig, improvements in youth participation in baseball are unique among team sports.

"It's not a trend that we're seeing with other team sports."

 

That reminds me of a central question in considering whether to put taxpayer money into stadiums to be used by for-profit sports teams owned by very rich people: Does having such a facility boost the energy – the “animal spirits’’ – of a region and in doing so make it more economically and socially dynamic? Has gritty, high-crime Baltimore, for example, become a lot better with the Orioles’ beautiful Camden Yards stadium?

 

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Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation

Kudos, again, to Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, and his colleagues for adding another airline to T.F. Green Airport! This time it’s Frontier Airlines, which will offer flights to Denver and Orlando. The expansion of service at Green has been one of the great successes of Governor Raimondo’s administration.

And congratulations for facilitating an expansion of Norwegian Airlines’s international flights out of Green.

The biggest change, however, will come after the runway-extension project is completed, allowing for nonstop flights to the West Coast and numerous, not just a few, flights to Europe. That, obviously, will be a boon for southeastern New England -- decades overdue because of extreme politician-enabled nimbyism and extortion in Warwick.

 

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It’s no particular surprise that developers of the Residence Inn hotel in downtown Providence are getting additional state tax incentives after the developer, the Cranston-based Procaccianti Group, cited higher-than-expected construction costs.  This sort of thing happens all the time with publicly assisted projects. And in this case, the state has little choice but to give them the money: It can’t just leave a huge hole in the ground in the middle of the city.

 

Meanwhile, one wonders who will stay in the five new hotels expected to open in Providence next year. Can the city really become a major, national destination venue for conventions and other meetings?

 

In any event, the fewer vacant lots and surface parking lots, the more prosperous and safer the city looks and thus makes it easier to lure more businesses and working-age individuals, maybe even next year, when I expect a recession.

 

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Luis Aponte

Luis Aponte has stepped aside as president of the Providence City Council, but is hanging onto  his councilor’s seat and his right to vote despite his indictment for alleged campaign-finance corruption and embezzlement. Another council member, Kevin Jackson, was removed from office in a recall election following his indictment on similar charges. He had been unwilling to give up his vote during the legal proceedings against him.

 

There should have long since been a local ordinance and/or state law mandating that such local legislators be deprived of their legislative voting rights pending the resolution of the charges against them. The point is to protect the dignity and credibility of the council.

 

 

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The Trump budget proposal is filled with so many bogus assumptions and so much creative accounting it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Indeed, people in both parties on Capitol Hill are treating it as a joke. 

 

But there is a central, cohering direction – make America’s put-upon rich people even richer while sticking it to poorer people, many of whom, deluded by Trump’s demagoguery and such right-wing propaganda organs as Fox “News,’’ voted for the mogul. (Meanwhile, many Democrat-inclined people were too lazy to  make it to the polls.) You have to give the  hate  and fake-conspiracy peddlers at Fox credit – the network has very good production values. 

 

Of course, the richer the rich get, the more they control the government and the more that they’re able to further enrich themselves in a vicious or at least lucrative circle.

 

An essential part of the Trump budget is the assumption, or, rather, assertion, that it will somehow be paid for by increased economic growth – more of what George H.W. Bush used to call “voodoo economics.’’ The promise is that annual gross domestic product growth will rise to 3 percent, even as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects only a 1.9 percent rate. That’s because the CBO technicians wisely take into consideration, among other things, our aging population and falling productivity. 

 

President Donald Trump

Most administrations – including Obama’s – have  cooked (or massaged?) the books and often projected considerably higher GDP growth than happens. But the assumptions in the Trump plan are particularly egregious given the Niagara of retiring Baby Boomers and the big proposed tax cuts. 

 

For  many Boomers, by the way – especially the richer ones -- Trump is relatively kindly. Older white Baby Boomers vote heavily Republican, and he has vowed not to touch gigantically expensive Medicare or regular Social Security – by far the two biggest entitlement programs – which of course benefit them.

 

He promised in the campaign not to cut Medicaid. Now he wants to slash Medicaid, Food Stamps and Social Security Disability Insurance. That isn’t to say that Medicaid can’t use some major improvements, such as reducing the amount of unnecessary care and in some cases including work requirements for recipients. And Social Security Disability Insurance has long been rife with abuse. But the fact is that most of the people who benefit from these programs are honest and truly needy. Indeed, most are far more honest than Donald Trump.

 

Martin Wolf, a Financial Times columnist, described Trump’s “ideology’’ well when he called it “pluto-populism” -- “policies that benefit plutocrats, justified by populist rhetoric.”

 

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As revision or cancellation of the Affordable Care Act remains stalled in Congress, wouldn’t it be nice if the remaining grown-ups on Capitol Hill took action that might swiftly get bipartisan support, such as lowering the Medicare age to 50 or 55? That would both ensure that many more people likely to get sick because  of aging would be covered and it would create a new risk pool of younger and thus healthier people with lower private insurance premiums than they pay now.

 

 

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President Trump and his advisers might bear in mind that corrupt dictatorships such as the Saudi monarchy and other tyrannies in the Mideast are a major cause of Islamic terrorism. They spawn hopelessness and anger that then lead to the likes of al-Qaida and ISIS. Now we’re in bed with these regimes more than ever because Trump prefers dictators  over democratically elected leaders (easier to make deals with and associating with thugs makes this very insecure man feel more powerful) and he doesn’t see any value in America’s promoting human rights and democracy. 

 

The unhappy masses below these tyrants will remember who propped up these regimes if and when they're overthrown. And anti-American succession regimes will have all that U.S. military gear we’re selling them. It recalls Lenin’s line: “The bourgeoisie will sell us the rope with which we’ll hang them.’’

 

The president might also learn that Iran, which he repeatedly bashes and which has about 80 million people, compared to about 32 million  in Saudi Arabia, is less dictatorial than the latter and has a substantial middle class, much of which is pro-American. Indeed, the Iranians, most of whom are Shiites, just had a semi-free election – something you won’t see anytime soon in the Sunni dictatorships that Trump sucks up to.

 

In the short run, America can’t do much about the many nations run by vicious dictators, but if we are unwilling to at least try to defend liberty and human rights  just how “exceptional’’ are we anymore? 

 

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Trump touts the campaign against ISIS  but fails to challenge dictatorships that kill far more people than ISIS or other Islamic terrorists,  dictatorships that have sought (with growing success) to undermine Western democracy and that have invaded neighboring territory (Russia in Georgia and Ukraine; China in the South China Sea).

 

In the case of Russia, Trump’s affection  for dictatorship is partly because of extensive business deals between the Trump-Kushner gang and people around Vladimir Putin. But it’s also because in the end, ISIS is far less scary than the likes of Russia and China. Trump, in his bloviations against ISIS, also suggests that Islamic terrorism can be permanently destroyed. Ridiculous. Trump’s wishful-thinking fans will note this as the months go by with more terror attacks. 

 

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Shame on whoever in the CIA leaked information  from the British regarding the investigation of the Manchester bombing and shame on The New York Times for publishing it.

 

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President Trump’s speaking style seems to be becoming ever more elementary, with endless repetition of simple words and garbled syntax. Folks have been listening to interviews with him from back in the ‘80s. He was far more articulate then, with a much bigger and more precise vocabulary.  Has he recently moved into dementia? Time for the  Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which sets out a path for removing presidents because of disability?

 

For more information, please hit this link: https://www.statnews.com/2017/05/23/donald-trump-speaking-style-interviews/ and look at wwwtrumpthemovie.com

 

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Here’s a weird report from the Connecticut Post: A new study at the Yale University School of Forestry and other institutions asserts that fear of Lyme disease (named after the Connecticut town) costs, in the paper’s words, “$2.8 billion to $5 billion per year in activities pursued instead of enjoying the outdoors.’’ Strains credulity.

 

“People are giving up trips, and it's not just hiking and camping in the woods,’’ University of Alaska scholar Kevin Berry, the report’s lead author, said:  “It’s trips to the park, soccer games or walks and bike rides in places where there are stands of trees and all grasses …a wide variety of activities pretty much anywhere in this part of the Northeast that’s outdoors.’’

 

Really?  Can’t people just put on bug repellent and wear long pants?

 

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The number of bobcats, those beautiful, solitary and shy predators, has been increasing in recent years as they’ve been given more protection, as once-open fields have gone back to woods and as they, like such other rapidly expanding and intelligent predators as coyotes, learn how to prosper close to people.

 “They are back in New England and at least as abundant as they were 100 years ago, if not more,” wildlife ecologist John  Litvaitis told the Associated Press. “They are adapting to a landscape that has changed.”

While these cats used to be hunted down with great enthusiasm, now most states protect them to varying degrees.

The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, in the most recent national survey of bobcat numbers – back in 2010 -- reported that their numbers have almost tripled nationwide since the 1980s, to as many as 3.6 million.

Bobcats eat a lot of squirrels and rabbits, which we have in vast numbers. But they might eat your cat or small dog, too. Another reason not to let your pets roam free. And reminder: Your cat and your dog are also flesh-loving predators, too, however cute they may look. Indeed, house cats have devastated the population of many bird species. 

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The national attention given to the case of three young bears and their mother living near houses and rooting around in garbage and bird feeders in the tony college town of Hanover, N.H. (home of Dartmouth College) reflects our  ambivalence about wild animals. On the one hand, some people wanted the charismatic and unpredictable creatures destroyed: The beasts had become so habituated to living near humans that they presented a possible peril to their human neighbors. On the other hand, many saw them as sort of large pets that were fun to watch.

 

In the end, wildlife officials moved the three young bears to  wilder northern New Hampshire and continued to look for the mother, who, as of this writing, was still missing. Whether the young bears will be able to survive long in the wilds is unknown.

 

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Lobster populations are falling fast in southern New England, apparently because of warming water associated with  climate change. So the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will mandate revisions to the legal harvesting size as well as to the number of lobster pots. And it will set a schedule of closures in certain areas.

 

This will be tough on the lobstermen and lobsterwomen but seems unavoidable. For that matter,  in several decades there may be no lobsters along New England’s south coast. And eventually, that may even be true in the Gulf of Maine, the center of the U.S. lobster fishery but where, scientists say, the water is warming faster than in 99 percent of the oceans. However, the decline there of certain fish species that eat lobster eggs has helped sustain population of the crustaceans along the Maine and New Hampshire coasts.

 

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After failing to improve the standard of living (well, loan sharks have done well) in southeastern Connecticut (a state whose government is swimming in red ink)  with their vast casinos, the Mashantucket  Pequot and Mohegan tribes are pushing to build a “satellite’’ casino in East Windsor, Conn., making the pitch that this will reduce the flow of revenue to Springfield, Mass., where another casino based on wishful macroeconomic thinking is going up. 

 

Let the cannibalization of casino suckers continue!  Surf a new wave of embezzlements and personal bankruptcies in Greater Hartford! Of course, the tribes are getting support from their local state legislators, who look to campaign contributions  before the next election.

 

The plan is for the Pequots’ Foxwoods and the Mohegans’ Sun to pay 25 percent of their gross slot-machine revenues at the new facility to the state so long as no other enterprise is allowed to have a casino in Connecticut. So much for the free market!

 

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