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Whitcomb: Another Betting Bonanza; Brown Playing Defense; Stick with Green; No to Oprah

Sunday, January 14, 2018

 

Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

“Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer.’’

 

— Plutarch

 

As GoLocal has reported, states are awaiting with great interest a  Supreme Court ruling in a case, Christie v. NCAA, that will presumably determine whether online betting is to be legalized.  The justices are supposed to decide if the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is constitutional. This law outlawed sports betting, except in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana and licensed sports pools in Nevada.

 

With Rhode Island and many other states facing budget deficits that must be addressed annually, their powerful temptation will be to heavily tax online betting, especially as more state lotteries and brick-and-mortar casinos report revenue declines.  (All states except Vermont mandate a balanced state budget; even Vermont always balances its budget – Yankee rectitude.) The proliferation of casinos in southern New England is leading to cannibalization of the market.

 

If the Supremes clear online sports betting, of course, revenues, and thus states’ take, might fall off sharply at the physical casinos and state lotteries, but that would probably be more than offset by taxing the Niagara of revenue from online betting,  which is so easy to do in the comfort and privacy of home, sweet home.

 

I doubt that opening up yet another venue in which people can gamble would improve society. It would probably lead to thrown games and other corruption in sports. But online betting would be great news for pawn shops and loan sharks. Invest early!

 

 

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Brown University’s plan to join with for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings to buy Care New England to fend off Partners HealthCare’s bid for CNE is motivated by a very reasonable fear. Partners is joined at the hip with the Harvard Medical School. Letting the Partners behemoth into Rhode Island would result in many patients and clinicians who might otherwise stay in Rhode Island going to Partners’ famous Harvard-affiliated hospitals in Greater Boston, ravaging the small Brown Medical School in the process. Indeed, Partners would suck a lot of oxygen out of the Ocean State’s entire health-care sector.

 

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“Bad luck…always pursues people who change the names of their cities. Fortune is rightly malignant to those who break with the traditions and customs of the past….’’

 

– Winston Churchill

 

 

T.F. Green Airport

The recent belated but much appreciated growth of T.F. Green Airport into a real international airport has been very happy news for southeastern New England. But this has led Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian to suggest that the airport be renamed “Warwick International Airport’’  or, perhaps, “Rhode Island International Airport’’.   

 

Bad ideas. Yes, the airport is in Warwick but Warwick is part of the two-state Metro Providence area. Most U.S. travelers outside New England have heard of Providence, R.I.; few have heard of Warwick. And the airport not only serves the Ocean State but also large parts of Massachusetts as well as a slice of eastern Connecticut. (Of course, too many people get Providence mixed up with another quaint and quirky place – Provincetown – and even get “Rhode Island’’ mixed up with its neighbor “Long Island.’’)

In any case, the Green name should be kept. The airport is named after the late Rhode Island governor and then U.S. senator Theodore Francis Green (1867-1966!), who was a big public infrastructure proponent, from the WPA on. The appropriate new name for the airport would be “T.F. Green International Airport.’’  The name of Boston’s main airport – Logan International Airport – doesn’t include “Boston,’’ but that hasn’t caused any trouble that I know of.  And few can identify Edward Lawrence Logan (1875-1939, a general and Massachusetts politician),  after whom the huge facility is named. But that doesn’t matter. Name changes are generally not worth the confusion they cause.

 

I get a chuckle out of Mayor Avedisian’s desire to promote Warwick’s connection with the improved airport because he had long helped to put roadblocks in the way of extending a runway at Green to permit non-stop flights to the West Coast and into all of Western and Central Europe. He was responding to a small but very vocal group of people living near Green who didn’t want more airport noise and traffic and/or wanted more money from the state for their houses to be taken by eminent domain in order to allow for the very overdue longer runway. Hypocrisy makes the world go round!

 

Business travelers, in particular, have for decades sought those longer flights out of Green. With the runway extension finally completed last fall, I trust that we’ll get them soon. The FAA, for one, would like them in order to reduce congestion at Logan.

 

Meanwhile, let’s praise the fine work of airport chief Iftikhar Ahmad and his staff in building up Green.

 

It can only help that MeetingSource.com has ranked the Providence-Warwick area as one of the best mid-sized cities in America to host a convention. However, presumably using pre-runway-extension considerations, it complained about an inadequate number of direct flights in and out of Green.  We hope that will no longer apply in a year, as Mr. Ahmad and his colleagues continue to promote the airport’s charms and conveniences.

 

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Kudos to the many hard-working Rhode Island and Massachusetts local and state workers and private contractors who did a fine job of clearing the streets, despite extreme cold and the drifting caused by very high winds in the Jan. 4, snowstorm. Clearing the streets and highways after a big storm is an essential public service for which voters hold politicians particularly accountable, sometimes unfairly. One complaint: Some downtown Providence sidewalks were not cleared, forcing people to dangerously walk along the side of streets with fast traffic.

 

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I realize that builders, property managers, and city and state officials have taken steps to mitigate the effects of sea rise on Boston’s increasingly glitzy waterfront – a rise linked to man-made global warming. But are companies, such as General Electric, that plan to move there having second thoughts after the Jan. 4 tidal surge, which put some waterfront area streets under water? Then there’s the Back Bay, which is filled land and hardly above sea level, where some GE execs now live.

 

Amazon expanding in Boston

But apparently Amazon ain’t afraid:

 

It’s in talks to lease 500,000 square feet (other reports have the number at 1 million square feet) of office space in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood,  on the waterfront, with an option to double the space also being discussed, reported The Boston Globe. This has, of course, intensified the idea that Boston might become the site of the retail  behemoth’s  ballyhooed “second headquarters.’’

To read more on Amazon and Boston please hit this link:

 

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MA Governor Charlie Baker

I give credit to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for raising awareness about and planning responses to, sea-level rise, which may drown such areas as Newport’s Point neighborhood in the next few decades. And watch out Barrington!

 

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Because of New England’s dearth of natural-gas-pipeline capacity amidst the recent extreme cold, the price of gas, used for heating, cooking and, especially electricity generation, has been soaring in the region. To take advantage of this, Russian liquefied natural gas has apparently been shipped to Boston.

 

Trevor Sikorski, head of natural gas, coal and carbon at Energy Aspects Ltd., in London, told The Boston Globe: “Gas from anywhere is profitable into the northeastern U.S. gas market as prices are the highest in the world.’’ You could see some very big bills soon.

 

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Congress, at least in recent sessions, has not particularly cared about poor people with limited access to medical care. As Robert Pear noted in The New York Times, “They cannot agree on subsidies for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act or even how to extend funding for the broadly popular Children’s Health Insurance Program.’’ Many Republicans have often expressed a barely disguised distaste for Medicaid and the low-income people on it, while they’re leery of offending the generally higher-income and high-voting folks on Medicare, a much more expansive program.

 

Most members of the House and Senate are affluent and have few interactions with poor people who are uninsured and who can’t afford doctor visits or prescription drugs.

 

 

But the solons do love expanding funding for medical research, with a plan, for example, to boost the funding of the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion in the next fiscal year. Mr.  Pear notes, accurately in my view, that a major reason could be that legislators think that the research could create cures for ailments that they, their families and friends might have. And of course, few legislators are young; ailments increase with age.

 

“{T}he cynic in me says it’s because of the prevalence of selfishness. We all want to know there’s something out there that will cure us if we need it, but many of us are quite reluctant to pay for somebody else to get cured when they need it,’’ R. Alta Charo, a law and bioethics professor at the University of Wisconsin, told The Times.

 

I think that there’s another element in Congress’s love of funding medical research and development: Legislators may see this as a way of getting in early on investments in the drug and medical-device sectors.  Enjoy a bit of insider trading. For guidance on such lucrative activities, consult, for example, former Georgia Congressman and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D.

 

To read The Times’s story, please hit this link:

 

 

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An ironical effect of the GOP’s jettisoning of the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate’’ to buy private health insurance will be to expand government’s role in healthcare. It will do this by encouraging young, healthy customers to leave the ACA’s insurance exchanges. That will cause the exchanges to collapse, leaving even more people forced to turn to Medicaid.

 

The crazy complicated,  incoherent and wasteful ‘’ hybrid’’ public/private/state/federal U.S. health-care “system’’ will eventually implode, to be replaced by single-payer universal care that will at least cover all serious illness and injury. Oh dear! We can’t do that – that would be “socialism,’’ kinda like, well, Medicare!

 

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Many states will probably report unexpectedly high-income tax revenues this year, reflecting affluent people having paid income tax late last year before the limit on the deductibility of state and local income and property taxes kicked in for tax year 2018. Connecticut expects an extra $900 million.

 

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That Oprah Winfrey would be seriously considered as a presidential candidate is just another sign of the American decadence and decline demonstrated in the Electoral College having to present the Oval Office to a con man. But then in a country where fewer and fewer read seriously, ignorance of history and governmental operations is widening and most people get their public information from TV and social media sound and site bites, it’s no wonder that another “charismatic’’ TV celeb would be pushed forward. Perhaps Winfrey’s puffing of various medical and other con artists will block her candidacy, but in a decadent nation, don’t bet on it.

 

We can hope that successful – and honest — chief executives, preferably a current state governor who knows how to make government work well, will be the presidential nominees in 2020. (Obama had far too little administrative experience. So did Lincoln, but he was a genius.)

 

Don’t government experience and knowledge, and judgment under the pressure of very big decisions affecting millions of people, count for much anymore when we’re filling America’s most important job? Have we become that superficial and silly?

 

Please spare us from another overdose of “charisma.’’

 

 

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I’ve much enjoyed Trump’s negotiations with Congress about DACA and the border wall. He’s good at a kind of keep ‘em guessing bargaining to get the best deal he can. It reminds me of President Eisenhower’s response to a warning from his press secretary, James Hagerty, about a potential tough question from reporters:

 

“Don’t worry, Jim, if that question comes up, I’ll just confuse them.’’

 

 

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Politicians and other leaders and some intellectuals like to repeat that America is uniquely “exceptional’’ in its glory and goodness. But of course, in many ways, it’s like many other countries in its vulnerability to corruption and demagoguery. It has been very lucky: A vast country rich in natural resources (to be taken away from the relatively few Indians and, for a long time, exploited in part with slavery), English common law, Enlightenment ideas about the rule of law and human rights and some of that good old Puritan ethic. And of course protection for a long time by oceans shielding it from bad guys (or even good guys) in Eurasia. No more!

 

To read historian Joshua Zeitz’s rumination on “American exceptionalism,’’ please hit this link:

 

 

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President Donald Trump

Divisions in the West worsened in part by Trump’s nationalist pseudo-populism are making it easier for Russia and China to solidify what has effectively become in recent years an alliance. (Think of a milder version of the Nazi-Soviet relationship of 1939-early 1941.)_
 

Not only are the Russians and Chinese cooperating on many military and other security matters aimed against the West, they are also coordinating their economic expansionism. They’re doing this, in  part, through connections between Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (aimed at keeping former Soviet Central Asian “republics’’ under heavy Kremlin influence) and China’s Belt and Road infrastructure and economic development and trade project, aimed at expanding China’s  global economic, security and cultural power across Eurasia.

 

With the decline of American leadership of the Western Alliance as the latter seeks to better defend itself from the two great expansionist dictatorships, Western liberal democracy seems more fragile than it has been for a long, long time. While I admire French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May for pushing back against, especially, Russian aggression, the U.S., because of its size and power should take the lead.  But the Trump administration doesn’t seem very interested.

 

To read a thoughtful piece on this – “The Geopolitics of the Beijing-Moscow consensus,’’ please hit this link:
 

 

 

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“We theorized that the Russians had identified a set of users susceptible to its message, used Facebook’s advertising tools to identify users with similar profiles, and used ads to persuade those people to join groups dedicated to controversial issues. Facebook’s algorithms would have favored Trump’s crude message and the anti-Clinton conspiracy theories that thrilled his supporters, with the likely consequence that Trump and his backers paid less than Clinton for Facebook advertising per person reached. The ads were less important, though, than what came next: once users were in groups, the Russians could have used fake American troll accounts and computerized ‘bots’ to share incendiary messages and organize events. Trolls and bots impersonating Americans would have created the illusion of greater support for radical ideas than actually existed. Real users ‘like’ posts shared by trolls and bots and share them on their own news feeds, so that small investments in advertising and memes posted to Facebook groups would reach tens of millions of people.’’

 

 

From “How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us,’’ by early Facebook investor Roger McNamee

 

To read his whole piece, please hit this link:

 

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The Genius of Judaism (Random House), by Bernard-Henry Levy, the French celebrity intellectual, is a timely look at the place of Jews in the West and elsewhere, as well as a cogent discussion of anti-Semitism’s persistence.

 

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