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Robert Whitcomb’s Digital Diary: Clinton, Russian Hackers, and CVS Pressure

Friday, December 02, 2016


Robert Whitcomb

Stay north of disease; Putin picked our president; Del. does jobs well;  Penikese vs. addiction; checkout line shakedown


“How did it get so late so soon?

 It's night before it's afternoon.

December is here before it's June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?”

-- Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)


I stopped off at an old friend’s office in Newport, N.H., the other day for lunch.  Now retired as a CEO, he moved his company’s headquarters up there from Connecticut long ago. I asked my friend whether he had made any trips to the tropics lately and whether he’ll go south this winter. He has plenty of time and money to do so.


He said absolutely not: Travel is tiresome and he prefers to live far enough north to avoid tropical diseases and poisonous snakes. He has houses in Newport (N.H.) and Bar Harbor, Maine.


Some small solace to New Englanders fearing the onrushing winter – it’s healthier here?




This winter will include continued controversy about the presidential election. For one thing, there’s the unsettling fact that Hillary Clinton has won more than 2 million more popular votes than Donald Trump.


For another thing, reports continue to circulate that Russian government-sponsored hackers may have manipulated some voting results to help Donald Trump,  a Vladimir Putin fan, win three very closely contested states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and thereby the election.  Very chilling thought indeed, but whatever hacking took place was probably not crucial in the outcomes.


What was crucial  was the Russian/WikiLeaks hacking and publicizing of  emails of people connected with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the creation of  fake and often vicious news stories meant to show everyone connected with Mrs. Clinton  in the worst light. (That’s not to say that the Clintons don’t have enough baggage to open up a small luggage store.)


Given the closeness of the election, it seems entirely plausible that a ruthless dictator has managed to make Donald J. Trump our president.

At the very least, the uneasiness about all this ought to encourage Mr. Trump and his followers to avoid trying to impose whatever incoherent and extreme set of policies they may have in mind because of some sort of a “mandate’’. He has no mandate and it is even possible (though unlikely) that his election  itself was fraudulent.


Hillary Clinton

In any case, Mr. Trump seems to have no particular principles, other than that he should always be at the center of attention and be seen as a “winner’’.  Post-election, he has been madly backtracking on campaign promises on immigration, climate change, healthcare and persecuting/prosecuting the Clintons, among other things, because, as he must have known before the election, while these promises pleased some of his more ignorant, naïve  and angry followers, they could not be easily implemented and might swiftly make him very unpopular.

I suspect that he first ran for president as a sort of lark to keep himself in  the public eye and pump up his future reality-TV business and at first had no idea that he could actually become president. But with the incoherence of the GOP’s constituencies, and the failure of his primary-election rivals to thrive in the Celebrity Culture that dominates so much of American life, he came to realize he could win. And he certainly didn’t want to be branded a “loser’’ – the most offensive thing he could think of being called. He is, after all, rather childlike.


So he winged it, telling his followers and potential followers what they wanted to hear and had the good luck to run against a Democrat whom many people were sick of and thought dishonest, although her dishonesty level is many times lower than his.  And Donald Trump is a hell of a salesman, as a cousin of mine who has negotiated with him reminded me last month.


Now  the president-elect has to  somehow square his promises  with governing via a government that has the tedious old thing called “separation of powers.’’


One position he might not back down from is opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that if the U.S. adhered to it would strengthen America in its competition with China, which is the biggest threat to U.S. national security, including its economy – worse than  Mr. Putin’s Russia and the Islamic terrorist community.


The TPP is a proposed 12-nation (if you include the U.S.) trade deal that doesn’t include China – indeed it’s meant to push back against Chinese efforts to economically and militarily dominate East Asia and the western Pacific region.


The TPP would help prevent China from writing the trade rules for much of the world. Note that the Chinese government called the TPP “the economic arm of the Obama administration’s geopolitical strategy to make sure that Washington rules supreme in the {East Asia/Pacific} region.’’ Mr. Trump, by rejecting what had been expected to be much  expanded U.S.  cooperation with friendly nations in the region, may have thrown the other 11 nations into the arms of the Chinese dictatorship, whose plans include taking over the entire South China Sea.


China and the technology that allows relentless automation have been by far the biggest killers of well-paying U.S. jobs, whose loss had a lot to do with Donald Trump’s crucial victories in battlefield states. Mr. Trump’s avid followers would cheer  if, as he has promised, he officially kills the TPP soon after he takes office. A year or two or three down the road, they won’t like the results in job losses. It will be interesting to see how President Trump improvises his way out of that. Will he do it via series of frantic tweets?





President-Elect Donald Trump

Regarding the famous loss of blue-collar jobs: The Nov. 22 New York Times had a useful story, headlined “A Jolt of Blue-Collar Hope’’ about how tiny Delaware (where I worked for a few months more than 40 years ago) has partly recovered from the crash of manufacturing jobs and the financial crisis – a recovery not seen in  most other industrial states.


In his eight years in office, now outgoing Gov. Jack Markell has led a big program of education meant to make Delawareans among the most highly skilled workers in America, which no longer – to say the least -- has the world’s most highly skilled workers. That’s partly because tax-cut mania has eroded American public education and because short-termism and executives’ greed in  big publicly owned companies has caused them to slash training of their employees to save money. As long as senior executives can make a quick pile and keep Wall Street happy, the hell with the skills of  employees. I saw this attitude in action myself.


Most interesting is that, besides boosting traditional education via helping low-income students go to college (which is over-rated), etc., the Markell administration has pushed hard to expand the sort of vocational training that has helped keep Germany, the Scandinavian nations and Japan rich.


One such program is in New Castle, a manufacturing community that also has some very pretty 18th Century houses. There, William Penn High School was reorganized into 20 different “majors’’ – including manufacturing, computer science, agriculture  (mostly flat and fertile Delaware has a surprisingly big farm sector) and even “medical diagnostics’’. It’s part of a statewide program called “Pathways to Prosperity.’’

As David Leonhardt, author of the article writes: {H}aving a major {in high school} can …help students who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. It connects book learning to real life. It can help launch them into college or a certificate program and avoid the epidemic of academic drift.’’


And, “Many people in New Castle, not to mention the industrial Midwest, feel a deep cultural connection to craftsmanship – to making things and working with their hands. They’re not inspired by working in cubicles or comfortable offices…{But} {t}hey can’t bring back yesterday’s economy. They need blue-collar skill-building to thrive….The country has failed to provide nearly enough of that skill-building, and we’re all living with the consequences.’’


Helped by this vocationally minded program, Delaware is now doing well, with a 4.3 percent unemployment rate and  incomes  rising at  good clip. Other  states should take note.




Brockton, once the shoemaking capital of the world, is another mostly deindustrialized area. But immigrants have moved there in large numbers, drawn by cheap rents and Massachusetts’s relatively generous social services, including healthcare.


Mayor  William Carpenter is under fire for spending $585 in city money to pay for a community college course for himself in Cape Verdean Creole to better communicate with a major ethnic group there. The City Council eventually approved the expenditure after some grumbling that he should have paid for it himself.


Of course, immigrants used to flock to such cities as Brockton for jobs, many of them relatively high-paying skilled positions. No more. Now the large number of low-income immigrants, many with little or no skills in English, serve to irritate many of the sort of people who voted for Donald Trump. They make some Americans feel that they are strangers in their own land.


But just up the road, Boston and Cambridge get richer and richer with 21st Century high tech and an embrace of a global economy.




Tiny Penikese Island, off  southwestern Cape Cod and part of the Elizabeth Islands, has been turned into a beautiful if austere retreat for the treatment of opioid addiction, a staggering problem all over America. You can blame the addiction epidemic, in part, on pharmaceutical companies and their salespeople asserting that such newish opiates as OxyContin were not dangerously addictive and were needed to address an alleged American “pain crisis."


In the past, Penikese has hosted a leper colony, a school for troubled boys and a bird sanctuary. Its latest use is admirable, though, it should be emphasized, the facility can only take a few clients at a time – at this point only young men.


There must be some other New England islands that would serve as places where addicts can confront and overcome their demons with the help of tough but compassionate therapists and without the temptation, followed all too often by quick relapse, they’d have on a mainland. It’s hard to avoid the mindfulness and perspective you gain in such a quiet, if windy place. Not that you’d want to spend the rest of your life there.




Delaware Workers

In the sort of insult to the nation and obsessive identity politics the reaction to which helped get Donald Trump elected, the officialdom of trendy Hampshire College has decided that it won’t fly the American flag until at least January, Jonathan Lash, president of the college, in Amherst, Mass., has announced.


The school is angry about Donald Trump’s immigration stance, some shootings by police and what  I guessed could be lumped under that old bugaboo “American imperialism’’.


A supporter of the flag takedown, student Daniel Vogel,  told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson: “Think about the groups that use the flag, from police officers to the U.S. Army. These are the forces on the ground that make oppression happen.”


Young Mr. Vogel needs to get around the world a bit and see what real oppression is. He and Hampshire’s leaders might also mull how much federal money, in Pell Grants, etc., pumps up Hampshire and its $62,000 cost to go there. (The median U.S. household income is about $50,000.) And, for that matter,  Mr. Vogel and his  young pals might consider why so  many millions of people from around the world still seek to come to the nation represented by the flag.


Oppression indeed!




And so the narcissistic tyrant (but I repeat myself?) Fidel Castro is dead.  Look for his brother, Raul, to stagger on a little while longer as dictator. He’ll make sure that his family continues to enrich themselves in what is now a  fairly typical dictatorial political family kleptocracy. Whatever the initial proclaimed “principles’’ and “idealism’’ of Marxism, etc., “revolutionaries’’ like the Castros are in it for power and wealth above all. It may take a bloody revolution to dislodge the Castros from the nation they have been looting while they’ve been suppressing the population through an Orwellian surveillance state.


By the way, New England once had deep ties with Cuba, mostly through growing and shipping Cuban agricultural commodities  through such big companies as the former United Fruit Co., based in Boston, the sugar business and other stuff.





Kudos to Andy Levinsky for his Nov. 23 piece in the Boston Globe – “I won’t be guilted into giving $1 in the checkout line’’.


The increasingly irritating practice of customers being shaken down publicly for contributions to company executives’ favored charities is a way for the latter to get credit for using other people’s money for charities. Very Trumpian. CVS is a major culprit in this.


Pick your own charities and give to them directly and as generously as you can. Don’t succumb to pressures from CEOs making millions of dollars a year (and paying most of their employees peanuts) to help burnish their PR.




Brockton’s city councilors criticized Mayor Bill Carpenter for using city money to pay for a community college course in Cape Verdean Creole, but in the end the divided board voted 7-4 to go along with his action.


The vote came at a Nov. 21 meeting of the City Council sitting as the Finance Committee.


Carpenter defended charging the city $585 for the semester-long Massasoit Community College introductory course, saying it was a job-related expense that would help him communicate with the approximately 40 percent of Brockton’s 95,000-plus residents who are Cape Verdean Creole speakers. He added that the city auditor had vetted the expense.





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