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Whitcomb: More Speed Cameras Please; Trading Away Allies; Memories of the New Haven

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Bob Whitcomb

"It is in this unearthly first hour of spring twilight that earth's almost agonized livingness is most felt.  This hour is so dreadful to some people that they hurry indoors and turn on the lights."

--  Elizabeth Bowen

 “Expertise, personal integrity and public service have all been debased and devalued by our culture. That’s how we wound up — for the first time in American history — with a president who had no prior governing or military experience.’’


--- James Hohmann, in “Trump is supercharging the celebrification of politics, ‘’ in the March 7 Washington Post.


“In an autocracy, the traits of character are magnified; everything personal is political.’’


-- British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore


On the “bombshell’’ plan for Trump to meet with North Korean dictator (and Putin ally) Kim Jong Un in May: Sounds like a good publicity stunt and/or distraction. We shall see who’s the supplicant. Dictators are very good at manipulating the leaders of democracies while the former continue to build up their forces. More Munich, please?




Traffic Camera

Hurrah for Providence’s new cameras meant to discourage speeding in school zones. For far too long, the city has not been able to adequately enforce the speed limit, which on city streets is 25 miles an hour, but 20 mph in school zones, defined as any area within a quarter mile of a school.  Previously signs have been too often ignored; the cameras are spawning some new respect for the rules. The $95 fine has been a splash of cold water on irresponsible drivers.


This is a fair way to increase municipal revenues; it might even help postpone the next property-tax increase!


And there’s nothing marginal about the speeding being detected by the new cameras: The equipment must prove that a driver is going over the posted speed limit by at least 11 mph.


Of course, speeding is just part of the increasingly bad driving we’re seeing on roads all over America, much of it caused by drivers texting or having some other intimate relations with their cell phones.  Even without phones, we face the increased incidence of drivers not signaling when changing lanes or turning off the roads, problems worse in Rhode Island and Massachusetts than in most of America.


Note that the Providence cameras were installed under a Rhode Island state law called the “Rhode Island Automated School Zone Act.’’


The city probably could have done a better job of warning drivers about the new cameras. That’s especially so for low-income neighborhoods with lots of immigrants with scant knowledge of English. I hope that Mayor Jorge Elorza and others in his administration step up educational efforts.


In any event, speeding is a very bad problem: Consider the 12,000 tickets issued in a little over a month!


Some drivers hit with tickets have complained that they didn’t see the signs. Maybe they would have if they hadn’t been speeding.


Providence Municipal Court Chief Judge (and TV star) Frank Caprio told GoLocalProv:


"I think the city's done a decent job {of informing the public} . There's been a great deal of talk about them {the cameras}. People are creatures of habit, the most traveled street is Mt. Pleasant Avenue. They do 35 past the high school and the speed limit is 20."


"Everyone has to get vigilant. These cameras are placed in a quarter mile from a school zone, and that's practically all of Providence."


"I think with more awareness, people will realize what's happening. But based on the number of {additional} machines being added, the numbers {of tickets} will go up in total.’’

To read more of his remarks, please hit this link:


City Councilwoman Sabina Matos, whose district has many immigrants and poorly educated and low-income residents, told The Providence Journal that she’ll introduce a resolution at the March 15 council meeting to block installation of more speed cameras until citizens can be further educated. But leaving the city’s educational efforts in poor neighborhoods aside, news media have covered the speed-camera situation intensely. What is needed is for many more people to follow the law – and perhaps save a life in the process. Adding to municipal revenues to help pay for city services is icing on the cake.


Indeed, Providence needs many more speed cameras, the sooner the better.




Governor Gina Raimondo

U.S. News & World Reports ranks Rhode Island as 48th in America in its public infrastructure (mostly meaning transportation). This has been a heavy brake on its economy.  Businesses often cite it as a reason to avoid the Ocean State. Thank you, Gov. Gina Raimondo, for bravely taking on the trucking lobby. Trucks do most of the damage to roads and bridges, and tolling truckers to get funds to help fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure is only fair. And it will, of course, reduce the wear and tear on trucks in the Ocean State.  It’s good to see those new toll gantries up over Route 95. Raimondo is the first governor in many years to do something serious about our crummy roads and bridges.




“If you put tariffs against what are your allies, one wonders who the enemies are.”

-- European Central Bank President Mario Draghion on Trump’s tariff plans.


Trump wants to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum and has threatened a wide “trade war,’’ in which he might hit our allies hard – the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Japan – which generally play by the rules rather than just focusing on China, which cheats us right and left. His trade “policy,’’ however, varies by the minute, and late last week he made exceptions, for now, for Canada and Mexico and held out the idea of excepting some European nations. More chaos! Perhaps he’ll adjust his policies to maximize the personal profits for himself and the insider traders who are as thick as thieves (or just thieves) in his grifter regime.


Sen. Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican, and economists have noted that Trump’s tariffs are a victory for China, the largest cause of the global oversupply of steel and aluminum, which has long “dumped’’ its products at less than cost to grab market share and then drive competitors out of business.


Past U.S. trade barriers already imposed for China’s brazen violation of fair trade norms mean that it doesn’t ship much steel and aluminum to America. So “China wins when we fight with Europe,’’ Graham noted.


"You are letting China off the hook,’’ he told Trump. “You're punishing the American consumer and our allies. You're making a huge mistake here. Go after China, not the rest of the world.’’ But Trump admires, and/or fears, Chinese dictator-for-life Xi Jinping.


Trump likes to cite the defense angle of his steel-tariff plan but what his tariff idea is really all about is appealing to one of the more vociferous parts of his base – the steelworkers and some of the companies they work for – in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.


President Donald Trump

The United States uses about 3 percent of its domestic steel production for defense purposes, and most of what it imports it gets from allies, making the national security justification for his tariff plan perhaps a bit far-fetched. Do we really want to cut off the supply of steel from our allies? And don’t we need allies? In any case, surely steps can be taken to shore up the defense-related part of our steelmaking industry without getting into a trade war – with our (soon to be former?) allies, of all people.


The United States could have joined Canada,   the European Community and Japan to pressure Beijing to curb its steel and aluminum output. But Trump doesn’t think in terms of alliances. At the rate Trump’s incompetent and amoral regime is trashing our alliances we may soon have no allies to join us in defending ourselves from the Chinese and Russian dictatorships.


Consider that Trump’s decision to have the U.S. pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade zone incorporating 12 countries with about 40 percent of the world’s economic output, was a great gift to China.  The pullout was jet fuel for the China-led  Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,  which Beijing is using to create Chinese hegemony over East Asia.


Time and time again, Trump undermines our relations with countries that share our values while sucking up to dictators. In the case of Russia, and Trump’s refusal to fight back against Vladimir Putin’s assault on our election system, because of Trump’s secret business ties and/or blackmail, Trump reveals himself to be a traitor.


Meanwhile, let’s hope that there’s adequate protection from Putin’s killers for those sought for questioning in the Mueller probe of the Trump mob’s dealings with the Kremlin. The dictator thinks nothing of murdering those who might undermine him.


Nobody’s perfect.




Oceana estimates that Massachusetts’ commercial fishing, tourism and ocean recreation support 110,000 jobs and represents a $17.3 billion in economic activity. Thus it’s no wonder that Bay State legislators and most everyone else in coastal New England demands that the Trump administration drop its plan to open up most of U.S. offshore waters to oil and gas drilling. (Florida, a swing state where Trump’s glitzy Mar-a-Lago resort is located, would be exempt….)


Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Maura Healey, one of the bipartisan group of state officials fighting the Trump plan, said: “We know the devastation, having seen one too many oil spills.”




New England has lots of woodlands and so we’re tempted to see biomass as a good source of “renewable energy.’’ The theory goes that, yes, burning wood, notably in the form of wood pellets, releases carbon dioxide but growing trees absorbs it and so the whole process can be seen as “carbon neutral’’.


But a report from an outfit called Not Carbon Neutral says that CO2 emissions far exceed the absorbing capacity of the living trees planted or maintained as future fuel sources.  The report’s author, Mary Booth, told ecoRI News journalist Tim Faulkner:


“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions.’’ She included in her calculations the fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels.


Southern New England gets some electricity from burning wood in northern New England.


The report reminds me of the wood-burning mania in New England during the energy crises of the ‘70s. It was handy to have all that wood available for heating in New England to offset a little the swelling price of heating oil, but the wood stoves caused serious air pollution in many parts of our region, including in rural areas once noted for their clean air.


So wind, solar and hydro are the way to go in New England’s energy future.


To read Mr. Faulkner’s article, please hit this link:





The Atlantic had a good article (“A Small Town Kept Walmart Out. Now It Faces Amazon,’’ March 2) about Greenfield, a town in western Massachusetts.


Greenfield has managed to keep big-box retailers out of town in order to preserve locally owned stores. But now local store owners and consumers who want to keep them are fighting a bigger enemy – Amazon. The behemoth online retailer offers a convenience that’s very difficult to compete against. Alana Semuels writes:

Big box retailers

“Greenfield and other towns across New England are learning that while they might have been able to keep out big-box stores through zoning changes and old-fashioned advocacy, there’s not much they can do about consumers’ shift to e-commerce. They can’t physically keep out e-commerce stores—which don’t have a physical presence in towns that residents could push back against—and they certainly can’t restrict residents’ Internet access. ‘It’s one thing for me to try and fight over land use in the town I live in, or in somebody else's town,’  {local leading} big-box foe {Al} Norman told me, ‘But e-shopping creates a real problem for activists, because on some level, shopping online is a choice people make, and it’s hard to intrude yourself in that.”’


Beyond the demise of local business that keep much of their revenues in their area,  there’s a hollowing out of local civil society as people have fewer opportunities to meet in local stores; there are fewer of them as more and more folks order more and more products from home or office. As the Internet society heads toward its fourth decade, we’ll need to find different ways to encourage locals to meet and to participate in their community other than, say, joining AA.


To read The Atlantic’s article, please hit this link:




Most adult New Englanders know about New Hampshire’s highly lucrative state liquor stores, the revenue from which helps the Granite State avoid having state income or sales taxes. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission had a staggering (for a small state) $698.2 million in sales last year.


Consumers drive from all over the Northeast to buy cheap booze in New Hampshire.


But now, it turns out, there may be funny business, with Andru Volinsky, a member of the state’s Executive Council, calling for an investigation of the commission for, he says, enabling out-of-state bulk purchases and perhaps breaking federal tax laws. Mr. Volinsky tells New Hampshire Public Radio that the commission’s practices could “unquestionably facilitate money laundering related to criminal activities.’’


Whenever government sets itself up as a business, whether in liquor or gambling (as with state lotteries and state-government overseen casinos) the potential for associated crime should be obvious.


To read the New Hampshire Public Radio article, please hit this link:




Plastic pollution is killing much wildlife, releasing poisons in water and generally making a mess.  Plastic takes a very long time to degrade. That’s why a rapidly increasing number of jurisdictions, including in New England, are banning plastic shopping bags. I hope that they’re banned everywhere over the next few years, as should be many plastic products.


A ban is looking less inconvenient these days as scientists and engineers come up with nonpolluting replacements. This includes processing such natural and renewable materials as cotton, hemp, flax and wool and certain kinds of leaves.


And there’s that old standby cellulose, made from plants, whose greatest initial allure was that it was transparent, and so particularly good for food packaging. It was later mostly replaced by plastics made out of toxic petrochemicals but is making a comeback because of improvements in how it’s processed and environmental concerns.


Then there’s packaging made from seaweed. That’s another reason for New England to pump up aquaculture of seaweed, whose species have a wide variety of uses.


Meanwhile, let’s find as many ways as possible to use multiple-use and recyclable containers and packaging and try to find out before we buy whether the packaging of the products we buy is biodegradable.





Flooding in Quincy, MA

After the recent major flooding on the Massachusetts east coast, writes the wonderful Jon Chesto in The Boston Globe, “Walling off Boston Harbor doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.’’


He writes:

“A team of researchers led by UMass-Boston’s  Sustainable Solutions Lab has been studying the pros and cons of such a project, thanks to $360,000 from the Barr Foundation….’’ (UMass-Boston is right on the shore of Boston Harbor.)

“Paul Kirshen, the lab’s director, says his team focused on two alternatives. One would be a massive, three-plus mile barrier stretching from Deer Island to Hull, with two gates for the President Roads and Nantasket Roads channels. These gates could swing shut in times of extreme storms. The other option would be a much smaller wall between East Boston and South Boston....

“These projects would obviously cost billions. Think Big Dig, Part 2. Design and permitting could take a decade, and Kirshen says construction might not be done until 2050.’’


Think Holland.

To read more, please hit this link:




A sign of the allocation of resources in America’s current Gilded Age: Projected cost of replacement building for  Fall River’s (city population about 87,000) Durfee High School, scheduled to open in September 2021 -- $263.5 million; asking price for new mansion in Bel-Air, Calif.: $500 million.





I’ve noticed this month that there’s a gray-green lichen called Usnea growing on many trees and bushes on the Sakonnet Peninsula, in southeastern Rhode Island, creating a very beautiful, if eerie effect, as eerie as Spanish moss on trees in the South. The lichen looks like mini-shrubs and tassels.


Usnea often grows on sick or dying trees because of the pre-existing loss of canopy leaves, allowing for greater photosynthesis by the lichen. But the lichen itself doesn’t sicken the tree, and it’s a good photo op.





Last week I took the Shore Line East commuter rail line, which runs between New London and New Haven. I noticed that the cars were from the old New Haven Railroad, which went out of business in 1968! That the cars are so old testifies both to how sturdy (if now rattling) they are, reminding me of those tough old DC 3 prop passenger planes that were flown for decades by numerous airlines, and to how old so much of America’s infrastructure is.


The old NH cars also reminded me of the old New Haven Railroad itself, with its stuffy smoking cars, itchy upholstery and, on its longer runs, especially Boston to New York, dining cars where you could even get lobster but because of silly labor rules, you had to put your order in writing.


And then I think of the weary and melancholy commuters, such as the Dan Draper character in Mad Men, sitting and smoking in a New Haven Railroad car and looking sadly out at a platform at a suburban station in Westchester or Fairfield County where a sole man, wearing a fedora and a London Fog raincoat, is pacing back and forth in the dusk.





It looks like many gun-control supporters must become as monomaniacal as the NRA to get their way. They would do well to repeatedly quote the Second Amendment’s rationale for gun ownership: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State.’’ And, of course, the Founding Fathers had no way of anticipating semi-automatic and automatic rifles meant to kill as many people as fast as possible and that these weapons would be easily available at big-box stores.


The gun lobby has hijacked the Second Amendment. For the NRA, its interpretation of the Second Amendment is the only part of the Constitution that they’re interested in.


It used to be that plenty of Republican politicians favored common-sense gun control. But now the increasingly fanatical, even crazed, NRA and the GOP are married. Let’s hope for a new and thoughtful right-of-center party not run by ruthless plutocrats and the NRA. Maybe such successful GOP governors as Ohio’s John Kasich and Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker could lead it.




Given America’s current level of wishful and fantastical thinking, it would be a good time to read Kurt Anderson’s recent Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History,


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