Whitcomb: America Fuels Mexican Violence; Primary Problem; Ivy League Price-Fixing? Perry Mason

Gun Rights

Sunday, March 12, 2023

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Robert Whitcomb, columnist

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“The wind could have brought us down

     into the whites of their eyes, the harbor’s

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froth, onto the backs of swans and the swan

boats. Carried us against the tide of traffic

   onto the golden bulb of the statehouse….’’

— From “Rough Flight Into Boston,’’ by Gary Margolis, a Vermont-based psychologist and poet

Time is

Too Slow for those who Wait,

Too Swift for those who Fear,

Too Long for those who Grieve,

Too Short for those who Rejoice;

But for those who Love,

Time is not.

— “Time Is,’’ by Henry Van Dyck (1852-1933), American author, educator, diplomat and Presbyterian minister. He officiated at Mark Twain’s funeral, on April 24, 1910.

“I am lying in a pram {baby carriage}, in the shadow of a tree. It is a fine, warm summer day, the sky blue, and golden sunlight darting through green leaves. The hood of the pram has been left up. I have just awakened to the glorious beauty of the day and have a sense of indescribable wellbeing.’’

— Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss psychiatrist, on his first memory

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The windy days we’ve had lately have blown down lots of twigs and branches that will be good kindling in those fire pits we bought for outdoor gatherings at the height of COVID. The pits may become popular again if a 1918-level avian-flu pandemic besieges us, as some fear. (From some of the rhetoric coming from Red States, you’d almost think that they’d ban wearing face masks in the next pandemic.)

Soon the buds of the red maples will start opening, adding some much-missed color to the brown and gray of the woods.

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PHOTO: Greg Bulla, Unsplash

How We Fuel Crime South of the Border

The murder of two Americans last week in Mexico by members of a drug cartel in a mistaken-identity attack has aroused anti-Mexican sentiment. The outrage reminds us of the seemingly endless and brutal crime wave that stretches from Mexico down to South America because of the drug trade.

Americans should look in a mirror. Our appetite for drugs helps finance these murderous gangs, and our gun industry, shielded from reasonable controls by the NRA — the lobbying arm of the gun industry —   and its GOP/ANon allies, provides the cartels with military-level armaments. The mayhem caused by the cartels, in turn, sends migrants fleeing north to seek safety in the United States.

You can understand why it’s so difficult to have stable democracies in Mexico and Central America and understand, for example, why El Salvador’s autocratic president, Nayib Bukele,  in order to fight the drug-trade-financed gangs, has presided over the opening of a huge new prison while ignoring civil rights. Desperation.

Hit this link:

The two murdered people were in a group of four people visiting Mexico so that one of them, a survivor of the attack, could have a medical procedure. The United States has the highest medical costs in the world and sketchy insurance coverage, and thus many American “medical tourists” seek treatment elsewhere.

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PHOTO: File

In Search of Physicians

I received a polite complaint from a physician acquaintance regarding my comments in last week’s column in response to an interview with Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Peter Neronha in ConvergenceRI.com. He was talking about the paucity of primary-care physicians and the woes of the state’s hospital sector.

The doctor was right that I should have added reimbursement rates to the list of reasons for Rhode Island’s primary-care physician shortage.  They’re lower (perhaps 15-20 percent less?) than in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the Ocean State’s two rich neighbors, though perhaps that the cost of living in Rhode Island is a tad less than in those states may mitigate the pain.

Still, the lack of primary-care physicians and hospital woes, the latter serious enough that some are closing, are very much national challenges.

Despite its problems, Rhode Island seems to rank pretty high in health care, as a look at these links suggests. The first link below, albeit from a 2019 report, may surprise you.

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/rankings-and-ratings/primary-care-physician-supply-in-all-50-states-ranked.html

https://www.uhc.com/broker-consultant/local-markets/rhode-island/rhode-island-health-rankings#:~:text=Rhode%20Island%20is%20ranked%2011th,Health%20Rankings%202022%20Annual%20Report.

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Let’s hope that the Newport-Jamestown ferry service, from May through October, resumes this year despite the desire by some  Jamestownians to stop it. People love the little adventure of a ferry ride.  It’s another draw for tourists.

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PHOTO: Jon Tyson, Unsplash

So They Don’t Swipe It

There’s been a lot of skepticism about whether all the money from Massachusetts’s new “millionaires’ tax’’ will actually go, as promised, to improve  public education and transportation (MBTA, roads, etc.) When total tax revenues fall in the next recession will the money end up in the general fund?

So Gov. Maura Healey’s administration has proposed sequestering the money in a new Education and Transportation Fund, which is expected to hold $1 billion in fiscal 2024. The legislature will determine the spending from it.

This could become a model for other states contemplating the creation of such dedicated accounts. Still, I’d be very surprised if desperate Bay  State politicians didn’t end up raiding such a fund one fine day.

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PHOTO: File

Selling Prestige

A suit by two basketball players, one a former Brown University player and one still playing there, alleges unfair, oligopolistic collaboration in sports programs by the Ivy League. The plaintiffs assert that the eight-college association’s policy of not offering athletic scholarships amounts to a price-fixing agreement that denies athletes proper financial aid and other payment for their services. The duo seems to have wanted to be treated as employees.

This case is absurd. These athletes have not been compelled to attend an Ivy League school. If they didn’t like these institutions’ long-established policies, they could have gone to many other places, some also called “elite,’’ in search of big bucks.

When the Ivy League as a formal organization was founded, in 1954, the ban on athletic scholarships was meant to be seen as fending off the corrupting commercialization of the sacred groves of academia and promoting the ideal, however naïve, of the “scholar-athlete.’’

Hit this link:

https://www.golocalprov.com/news/brown-basketball-players-file-federal-lawsuit-alleging-price-fixing-by-ivy

Complaints about price-fixing in the league go way back, spawned in part by the curious similarity of Ivy institutions’ tuitions. Consider this:

https://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/23/us/ivy-universities-deny-price-fixing-but-agree-to-avoid-it-in-the-future.html

And more recently:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/16-ivy-league-elite-universities-sued-alleged-financial-aid-conspiracy-rcna11643

These schools charge what the market will bear, which is a lot when it comes to “The Ancient Eight.’’ Such is the American obsession with social status, they’ll continue to draw many more applicants than can be admitted, including top-notch athletes in search, above all of an education.

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PHOTO: American Power Association

Nimbys and Yimbys

Many Red States are doing a good job in moving to renewable energy. A major reason is that they’re less densely populated than most Blue states and so it’s easier to site utility-scale solar arrays and wind turbines there. Most of them also have more sunlight and lots of open, windswept land.

They tend to have fewer concentrations of affluent Nimbys, such as along the East Coast, willing and able to sue to eternity to block renewable-energy facilities they don’t want to look at,  even on a far horizon. Of course, these same people usually say they’re all in favor of green energy – somewhere.

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/02/us-state-with-most-renewable-energy-production/

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Speaking of Nimbys, it was comforting to read about the rise of Yes In My Back Yard (Yimbys) in some surprising,  traditionally property-rights-obsessed places to address the lack of affordable housing and the urgent need to put it up fast. Many people in New England say that we must build more housing but then block zoning and other changes that would permit the increase in density that would allow it.

Southern New England officials ought to read this:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-07/yimby-zoning-reform-sweeps-mountain-west-as-housing-costs-rise?srnd=premium

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There’s lots of noise about expanding “parental rights’’ when it comes to school curricula, etc., especially in Red States, with Florida’s wanna-be Mussolini, Gov. Ron DeSantis, leading the charge. The idea is that parents should have first say on much of what students learn.  In practice, this often means parents who can be riled up by GOP/QAnon politicians pushing far-right agendas on Fox “News” and other lucrative lie factories.

But schools have societal and civic duties. They’re meant to help prepare young people to be good citizens and productive participants in our dynamic and unpredictable economy. That’s why school attendance is mandatory. Parents’ political and social beliefs and demands don’t necessarily always jibe with those duties, and few parents have the knowledge to create curricula. And in these days of disappeared fathers and electronic-media distractions, parents in a lot of families are problematical role models compared to most professional teachers. Millions of American families are a mess.

Focus on People

Every state and many smaller jurisdictions have long given away the store – in tax breaks, etc. — to companies to lure them to move to, or expand in, those places. The companies almost always break the promises they make in return, especially those about employment levels. And individuals and businesses who weren’t bribed must make up for the lost tax revenue.

So I wonder if rather than spending public resources on always luring unreliable businesses from away, it makes more sense to focus on attracting individuals via good public services (especially schools) and infrastructure, including a large and affordable housing stock and good transportation. Some of those people will then create home-grown companies.

Zany provincial law of the week:

Riders on Amtrak’s Downeaster train, which runs between Boston and Brunswick, Maine, will, at least for the time being, be allowed to buy alcoholic beverages in the 35-mile stretch that goes through New Hampshire. That’s despite a Granite State law that prohibits alcohol from being served there that hasn’t been bought in that state. New Hampshire leaders always tout the state’s dislike of regulations – except, apparently, those that bring in revenue, say via the monopoly of its state-run liquor stores. Socialism?!

Raise your glass to hypocrisy!

Maybe the state’s solons fear that the ban would cut the number of passengers taking the train and getting off on one of the three stops in New Hampshire. That would be bad for business.

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President Joe Biden PHOTO: White House Feed

Retirement Planning Needed

President Biden, 80, has been hinting he’ll run for re-election. Though he’s in good health – now – he shouldn’t run!

At his age, bad health or death is much more likely to suddenly arrive than for someone, say, a decade younger. He should take satisfaction from his major successes — e.g., such long-needed and long-term economy-boosting legislation as infrastructure rebuilding, helping Ukraine (and Europe in general) defend itself from Russia’s blood-soaked aggression, and promoting the most pro-middle-class policies than any since the 1970s; since Reagan, federal policies have greatly favored the  very rich, many of them through inheritance, as we have moved to an American version of feudalism.

And Biden has taken global warming seriously, unlike his mobster predecessor, who was in a  tight sleeping bag with the fossil-fuel industry.

He should encourage such potentially strong Democratic presidential candidates as former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar to reach for the brass ring.

Lessons, Sort of, in the Law

Reading about the new HBO Perry Mason series reminded me of the great 1957-1966 CBS TV series starring Raymond Burr as the Los Angeles lawyer defending innocent people accused of murder. I loved that show, especially because Mason (preposterously)  almost always won for his clients, often through surprising, last-minute evidence as the hapless prosecutor Hamilton Burger blew one case after another.  I also liked the Southern California atmosphere – sunny skies,  shady people, long  convertibles and endless smoking — recalling such films noir as 1946’s The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart.

I wasn’t alone. My father’s last job was as manager of administration for a “white shoe” Boston law firm called Choate, Hall & Stewart. He wasn’t a lawyer himself but rather a labor-relations guy. But the lawyers asked him to interview the elite-law-school students interested in joining the firm. When he asked them how they first got interested in becoming lawyers, many said “from watching Perry Mason.’’ Given the fantastical nature of some of the show’s plots, he thought that funny.

Ah, the power of those black-and-white screens and the warmth-giving vacuum tubes behind them.

Robert Whitcomb is a veteran editor and writer. Among his jobs, he has served as the finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, in Paris; as a vice president and the editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal; as an editor and writer in New York for The Wall Street Journal,  and as a writer for the Boston Herald Traveler (RIP). He has written newspaper and magazine essays and news stories for many years on a very wide range of topics for numerous publications, has edited several books and movie scripts and is the co-author of among other things, Cape Wind.

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