'Bustlings, strainings'

"It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may suppose the Dryads to be waking for the season. The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations, where everything seems helpless and still after the bond and slavery of frost, there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy efforts."


--  Thomas Hardy

Llewellyn King: A compromise to address the ugliness of deportations

It is ugly today, it will be uglier tomorrow, and months from now it will be even uglier. The relentless rounding up of undocumented people living in the United States is the horror that can be ended, if there was a will to end it — and if it were not a source of political feedstock for unyielding positions so close to the Trump presidency.

Mind you, it was not all that pretty under the Obama administration. He signaled his heart was in the right place while the deportations continued. What Obama did was to protect, by executive order, the undocumented who were brought in by their parents while underage. Now there is a report of the first of these dreamers, Juan Manuel Montes, being arrested.

We get little snippets of how ugly the deportations are from time to time in the media: a child bawling her eyes out because ICE policemen have seized her mother. That poor woman is on her way to a country she left because there was little there for her when she committed the crime of settling without papers in the United States; when she availed herself of the opportunity that nearly all American settlers once did: to live and work in freedom and peace.

In writing about the inhumanity of deporting the undocumented, I know what I have opened myself up to a flood of abusive mail, denouncing me as a crypto-communist and much worse. Always the same theme and often the same words inform these communications: “What is it that they don’t understand about illegal?” That is crime enough for those who want mass deportations.

At present the threshold, we are told, is that the deportee should have at some time committed a felony. Under federal law, illegal residence here is not a felony but a misdemeanor. One such crime in some states is driving under the influence. A felony? Yup. By the way, it is a crime for which former President George W. Bush was convicted in 1976.

Things are going to go from ugly to hideous when the federal government brings its might against sanctuary cities. There is the raw combustible material of civil strife here — ugliness in the streets, which has not been seen since 1968.

When neither of two options is acceptable, it is time to seek a third way: a compromise.

I have been advocating a compromise that was developed by a quiet, former IRS tax inspector and California university system auditor who lives in Malibu, Calif. He is Mark Jason and his idea is simple: cool things down and get some benefit for local authorities in areas where the undocumented are concentrated.

Jason and his Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group, wholly funded by himself, would recognize the presence of the undocumented and give them a way to remain and live productive lives. His proposal is a 10-year work permit dependent on a tax of 5 percent to be paid by both the worker and the employer. Jason calculates a revenue bounty of $176 billion over 10 years. There would be no citizenship for the worker. This money, Jason says, ought to go to the localities where the undocumented live and to defray the costs of education, health care, policing and other essential services.

This third way, this 5 percent solution, would not satisfy the immigrant advocates who want a “path to citizenship” or those who want to throw the baggage out; the dreaded knock on the door, families shattered, dreams turned into nightmares.

I still think we must control immigration, prevent it at points of entry, not when a life has been established and families are at risk.

There is a horror greater than the illegality of an otherwise productive citizen. It is the supreme ugliness of the state sending its agents against the individual, whether it is the state seeking to bivouac troops in private homes, as the English did to the American colonists, or the agents of the state coming into a home to rip it asunder.

That is an ultimate ugliness, unspeakable, unbecoming and, dare I say, un-American.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist,  international business consultant and frequent contributor to New England Diary.

Don Pesci: Weicker back with more incoherence; Hartford's dilemma and opportunity

Downtown Hartford, once famed as the "Insurance Capital of the World.'' --  Photo by Sage Ross

Downtown Hartford, once famed as the "Insurance Capital of the World.''

--  Photo by Sage Ross

Former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker surfaced recently and both condemned, unwittingly, and complimented lame duck Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Every so often, Mr. Weicker, intent on working the dents out of his legacy, pokes his head above the fox hole, scans enemy territory for a friendly face, and spills some political beans. Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post asked Mr. Weicker to comment on Mr. Malloy’s decision to pack it in, and he obliged. What Weicker said was, as usual, confusing and contradictory.

Mr. Malloy’s decision to withdraw his name for re-nomination, Mr. Weicker said, “unties Malloy’s hands.” Really? Malloy’s hands have not been tied during his entire term in office. All the heights of power in Connecticut’s government – the governor’s office, the General Assembly, the state’s constitutional offices, Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation, important courts appointments made by Mr. Malloy – have been in Democrats' hands since Mr. Malloy had first been elected governor. Indeed, so untied were Mr. Malloy’s hands that he felt comfortable denying Republican leaders in the General Assembly any voice in union contract negotiations with SEBAC, the union conglomerate authorized to fashion contracts with the governor; and when budget deliberations began during Malloy’s first term and second terms, he shooed Republicans out of the negotiation room and slammed the door in their faces.

One thinks of Cromwell marching into the British Parliament and shouting, “Gentlemen, go home!” There is not a hint of “tied hands” in any of this?

Mr. Weicker then added that, were he governor, “I would to the best of my ability deny the spending spree in the legislature. We’ve got to stop spending. That’s our huge problem. Every legislator has their pet project. We’re probably in the worst financial condition of any state in the union, and we’re known for that, rather than being the wealthiest.” He rounded out his thoughts, such as they were, by commending Mr. Malloy, whose approval rating in Connecticut is among the lowest in the nation, at about 28 percent: “Dan’s had two terms, which is heavy-duty in Connecticut. I would say he still wants to leave a positive legacy. I admire the man. I like him. He’s a good governor.”

So let’s see: in 20 months, Mr. Malloy will have been in office for two terms; he is the author of both the largest and second largest tax increases in Connecticut history, outperforming even Weicker on this score; the Connecticut legislature, dominated by Democrats for a half century or more, has, even by Weicker’s reckoning, spent the state into a hole; state deficits are about what they were during Weicker’s first term in office – which, everyone will recall, necessitated the imposition of an income tax; Connecticut is “in the worst financial condition of any state in the union” Mr. Weicker pronounces, adding, implausibly, “I admire the man. I like him. He’s a good governor.” What work, if any, does the word “good” do in that sentence?

In Mr. Weicker's mind -- not that anyone need bother too much with Mr. Weicker's mind -- spending is not a function of taxation, and taxation is not a function of spending. That is why Mr. Weicker can say, both and at the same time: a) spending is a problem; if I were  governor, I would put a stop to spending, and b) Malloy, who has not done this, is, nevertheless, an admirable governor. Malloy and Weicker have increased spending because they increased taxes. These two operations being detached in Weicker's mind, Malloy is a “good governor.”

Mr. Malloy is a good governor for much the same reason Mr. Weicker was a good governor: facing deficits, both raised taxes permanently – inflicting permanent damage upon the state, while satisfying progressive legislators and unions. Mr. Weicker likes Mr. Malloy because Mr. Malloy is like Mr. Weicker.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin -- who, as chief counsel to Mr. Malloy, learned his politics at the feet of the master --is cut from the same progressive cloth as Mr. Weicker and Mr. Malloy. In fact, Connecticut’s capital city, is a microcosm of the state. Whatever is wrong in Hartford is wrong in the state; whatever is right in Hartford is right in the state.

Hartford has been a one-party town for more than 50 years. The presence of the Republican Party in the city as a political force is a whisper in the wind. Mr. Bronin replaced Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who, before leaving office, gifted the incoming mayor with a financial mess and a new ballpark that will be losing millions of dollars two years out from opening day. The school system in Hartford, laboring under a court order that requires schools in the city to maintain an “equitable” ratio of 25 percent whites to 75 percent minorities, is in continuing crisis.

A charter school in Hartford that provides to African-Americans and Hispanics an education that does not require remedial courses for those of its students who graduate and go to college has been forced to turn away African-American and Hispanic students because it must preserve a 25-75 percent mixture of white and non-white students that a Connecticut court whimsically considers constitutional. No one in the city even blinks at this obvious example of court-ordered educational discrimination against minority mothers who want a better education for their children.

Hartford derives its revenue from property taxes, but there is a hitch: about fifty percent of the property in Hartford cannot be taxed. When the city wades into red ink, it makes an effort – only partly and temporarily successful much of the time – to reduce costs by reducing expenditures and begging state union workers for givebacks. In both the city and the state, union givebacks have been insufficient to balance budgets without additional revenue increases. Mr. Bronin’s present budget is running a deficit in part because savings from past “givebacks” have not been given back. The budget Mr. Bronin just presented relies on a generous gift from the state’s lame-duck governor than may not materialize. Both Hartford and state budgets are “balanced” by revenue projections that may never materialize.

Here is Mr. Bronin’s dilemma in a nutshell: He cannot increase taxes without incurring business flight and a consequent diminution of revenue, and he cannot – dare not – institute permanent cuts in spending by courageously confronting powerful unions. Yet spending continues to outpace revenue collections. For this reason, both he and Malloy find themselves in the same position as Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

Hartford has an insuperable advantage over the state. The city, as a default strategy, can and likely will declare bankruptcy, which will have the beneficial effect of forcing Mr. Bronin to do what he, Mr. Malloy and Mr. Weicker were loathed to do – cut spending by reducing contractual “fixed-cost” expenditures.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based political writer.

Happy birthday, Boston Guardian

Congratulations to the folks at The Boston Guardian, the best weekly newspaper in the Capital of New England, on the first birthday of the publication. Print on paper can still thrive, especially when it's combined with first-class journalism, as The Guardian has proven in the past year.

The Guardian's parent company is Guard Dog Media, whose mascot poses here.

James P. Freeman: The ridiculous victimology in the student loan mess

It must be difficult for students today… constantly deflecting laser-like “micro-aggressions” from minor affronts, constantly seeking “safe spaces” from scary ideas, and constantly anticipating “trigger-warnings” from insensitive academia. No doubt, all victims of a culture of cruelty. And now students and relatives must be vigilant for the newest neighbor moving into the inclusive victimhood:  student loans.

Tom Lindsay, contributor to forbes.com, makes the case in a piece titled, “The Latest — And Surprising — Victims of the Student-Loan Debt Crisis: Older Americans.” Lindsay cites a report recently issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The report finds that the number of those aged 60 and older with student loan debt has “quadrupled over the last decade in the United States, and the average amount they owe has also dramatically increased.”

About 2.8 million of these borrowers owe a total of $66.7 billion in student loans. Unsurprisingly, “73 percent of student loan borrowers age 60 and older report that their student debt is owed for a child’s and/or grandchild’s education,” with the remaining 27 percent financing either their own or their spouse’s education.

This “increased burden,” writes Lindsay, has “caused” these older Americans to use savings originally intended to be used during their retirement years to pay for the loans. He also reasons that the financial damage “suffered” by older Americans as a result of “tuition hyperinflation demonstrates the enormity of the student-loan crisis.”

Of course, Lindsay’s thesis is preposterous. He ignores the simple fact that these older Americans chose to take out these loans, and that older Americans comprise the wealthiest demographic group in America, as measured by median net worth. And the amount of student loan debt owed by these Americans is a fraction of the total outstanding student loan debt. So today, victimhood status is conferred upon even the wealthiest among us.

Forbes is not alone, however, in identifying victims. Last December, cnbc.com issued warning flags with “The Next Victims of the Student Loan Crisis:  Mom and Dad.” And in May 2014, huffingtonpost.com ran a piece, “How to Save the Victims of the Student Loan Crisis.” (Such stories diminish those with legitimate claims of intentional fraud and other legal violations.)

Consequently, millions of students today — whose parents or grandparents do not, will not, or cannot take out loans on their behalf — are being described as victims because they are supposedly coerced into borrowing huge sums by an unforgiving lending hegemony to pay for what should now be a low-cost entitlement, the education experience. Forget that a vast number of them made poor choices in the grim exercise of free will:  choosing to attend far too expensive colleges and choosing to borrow far too much money to pay for them.

Outstanding student loan debt now exceeds outstanding credit-card debt. According to a recent analysis by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), based upon data released by the U.S. Department of Education, 42.4 million Americans owe $1.3 trillion in federal student loans (excluding borrowing through private student loans, home equity loans, and credit cards as a means to finance education). As of December 31, 2016, a total of $137.4 billion in balances were in default, a 14 percent increase from 2015. There are 3,000 new student loan defaults each day; 1.1 million borrowers defaulted just in 2016. They join the ranks of 4.2 million now in default.

Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, said, “Our broken system works well for the student loan industry, but is failing borrowers, taxpayers, and our economy.”

Chopra fails to disclose that the federal government essentially is the “student loan industry,” since it effectively nationalized the lending market seven years ago, and politicized it. (Much federal loan program funding is rolled up in the federal Affordable Care Act.) Prior to 2010, “vulnerable” student borrowers were victims-in-advance of unscrupulous bankers who dared profiting from the risks of lending. So, with gorgeous irony, The Huffington Post in 2013 reported:  “Obama Student Loan Policy Reaping $51 Billion Profit.”

In his fine explanation of the “student loan mess,” Noah Smith, for Bloomberg.com, contends that “when the government owns student loans, it has every incentive not to fix the country’s student-debt problem.” But Smith peppers his commentary with the tone of victimhood. Millennials are “scarred” by the financial crisis of 2008-2009; they are that “unlucky generation”; their victim status is cemented by the “capricious power of the business cycle [leaving] them with fewer jobs and lower wages even as they were saddled with record amounts of debt. It’s no wonder that delinquency rates on student loans have soared.” So, students are excused for unbridling the reins of personal responsibility.

And there will surely be more victims now that the Trump Administration is rolling back protections for people in default on student loans. But changes are expected, according to usnews.com. These changes might include:  capping or rolling back certain graduate loans, reforming income-driven repayment plans, and changing Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

On the WGBH program Greater Boston, in a segment about student loan debt, host Jim Braude asked his guests, “the government… they’re part of the problem sometimes, aren’t they… I mean the federal government?” Gabrielle King Morse, Massachusetts director of the non-profit UAspire, responded, “it is true that banks actually have more regulation… than the federal government… so you’re right.” The government even makes financial award letters difficult for “highly educated” people to understand.

Federally owned student debt rose from zero in the early 1990s, to $100 billion before The Great Recession, to about $850 billion in 2014, to $1.3 trillion today; student debt now comprises 45 percent of federally owned financial assets. This is another example of how massive progressive engineering (replacing market-driven private enterprise with cumbersome central public control) has made something undoubtedly worse and unduly complex. The real victims here are those still believing in the efficacy of progressive philosophy.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times and occasional contributor to New England Diary. This piece first ran in the New Boston Post.

Whoosh!

Visualization of a Hyperloop train.

Visualization of a Hyperloop train.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com.

It’s sounds very sci-fi, but excitement is slowly growing about Hyperloop transportation systems, in which magnetically levitated trains carry passengers and freight inside a low-pressure tube at the speed of sound. One of the companies pushing for them is Hyperloop One, which has identified 11 routes across America where Hyperloops might be built.

By far the shortest and therefore the cheapest such route being proposed is Providence-Somerset- (to serve the Fall River area) -Boston – a 64-mile route that could take less than 10 minutes to travel. That this route is in a densely populated area whose residents are used to mass transit makes it more attractive. (By the way, Holly McNamara, aSomerset selectwoman, proposed the stop in that town.)

How much would it cost? No one really knows, but certainly several billion dollars.

Still, some engineers think that Hyperloops could be cheaper than regular high-speed rail to construct. The giant consultancy  KMPG did a study that concluded that the per-mile cost of building a Hyperloop could be more than 25 percent less expensive than building California’s planned high-speed rail to link Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Of course it all seems surreal now, but as former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said about the Hyperloop idea:

“The airplane was pie-in-the-sky, the car was pie-in-the-sky, virtually every mode of transportation we enjoy today was at one a point pie-in-the-sky idea. We have to accept that there’s a stretch here. But it’s a stretch that can yield pretty significant benefits. What surface transportation mode today can get 700 miles per hour? None. There’s a huge opportunity, we just have to be willing to do what it takes to get there.”

But, as he told Recode:  “The technology, the science behind it, is very sound, but it’s one of those examples of, the technology may be there before the government is. Will it happen some place? Absolutely, I’m sure it will. Not even sure it’s going to happen first in the U.S. to be honest, but I think there’ll be some proof points out there to show that Hyperloop is a real thing.”

Obviously, federal rail regulations would have to be dramatically changed to include 700-mph trains! But if the Hyperloop happens,  it could make Boston and Providence into one city.

 

 

 

 

 

Jill Richardson: A push for urban chickens

Via OtherWords.org

If you live in Austin, Texas, the city will pay you to get chickens.

That’s right. Whereas in the past, cities often banned urban chickens, our nation has now crossed a threshold in which a city will pay residents to keep chickens.

The program is an effort to reduce waste in the city. And, while chickens will gladly eat your food scraps, weeds, bugs, and even mice or lizards if they can catch them, they don’t perform many waste-reduction duties that a good compost pile won’t do.

They’re just a lot cuter and friendlier than your average compost pile. And, of course, compost piles don’t lay eggs.

Unlike a large poultry operation with thousands of chickens in a confined space, backyard chickens don’t smell. A flock of five chickens in a tidy coop with ample bedding has no odor.

I just completed my master’s thesis about urban backyard chickens. Needless to say, I’ve visited many backyards and visited many flocks of urban chickens. In nearly all cases, the chickens were considered pets.

Unfortunately, none of the people I interviewed saved money by keeping chickens. Eggs are so cheap that saving money by raising them yourself is nearly impossible. But they all enjoyed having chickens, so they were getting benefits beyond just eggs.

Nearly all were gardeners, for example, and chickens produce an invaluable source of fertilizer: manure. Gardeners who aren’t fortunate enough to own chickens have to buy it by the bag at the store. Its effect on plants is practically magical.

One of the people I interviewed told me she got chickens after her husband joked that they should. She thought, “Chickens don’t belong in the city!” and began researching chickens online to show her husband what a ridiculous idea it was.

Only, the more she looked into it, the more she changed her mind.

Until the past decade, many city governments also thought chickens didn’t belong in the city. The laws have changed one by one, generally allowing residents to keep a small number of the animals.

Madison, Wisconsin, for example, allows only four. Seattle allows eight. San Diego allows five, unless residents can provide a sufficiently large enough space to keep more. And most cities ban roosters.

But Austin is unique in actually encouraging people to keep the birds.

Their stance makes sense. Taxpayers spend a lot of money disposing of waste in landfills. If it’s cheaper to taxpayers to incentivize families to keep chickens and divert their food waste from the landfill, then why not?

Perhaps Austin will take our country into a new era, one in which chickens are not just kept in the city by the quirky few. Imagine how much waste would stay out of the landfill if chickens became as common as dogs and cats. That day will not come soon, but I hope to see it in my lifetime.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

 

R.I. hospital system wants Partners to acquire it

Rhode Island’s Care New England hospital system wants to be acquired by Greater Boston's Partners HealthCare, which includes such famed institutions as Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital.  CNE's plan is to  sell off Memorial Hospital, in Pawtucket, R.I., as part of being acquired. Ohio-based Prime Healthcare would buy Memorial.

Because of Massachusetts state regulators' concerns about Partners' pricing power, that system has found it difficult to expand more in Greater Boston.

CNE's  current units are:

Butler Hospital

Kent Hospital

Memorial Hospital

Women & Infants

VNA of Care New England

Care New England Wellness Center

“Today’s announcement represents the positive results of an extremely careful and deliberate process intended to ensure the best clinical, financial, and strategic direction forward for CNE,” said board Chairman Charles R. Reppucci, in a release. “While we are taking the first steps in this process, we do so with the utmost optimism and dedication to ensuring the successful completion of this affiliation with Partners which represents a unique and compelling opportunity in the advancement of Rhode Island healthcare delivery.”

Care New England has struggled financially in recent years and has  long been wanting to merge with another entity.

The system had  a $68.3 million operating loss in fiscal 2016 and a $1.8 million operating loss in fiscal 2015.

CNE has had a  relationship with Partners since 2009 through a clinical affiliation with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And McLean Hospital, also owned by Partners, has  sometimes worked with Care New England’s Butler Hospital in behavioral health and research.

How such a merger would affect the Alpert  Medical School at Brown University is unknown. Partners has very close links with the Harvard Medical School.

Presumably the acquisition would involve  big golden parachutes for CNE executives.

 

Todd McLeish: Marine plastic trash imperils beaches and wildlife

By TODD McLEISH, for ecoRI News (ecori.org)

LITTLE COMPTON, R.I.

Geoff Dennis walks the local coastline with his black lab Koda almost daily, and he is disgusted by the quantity of trash that accumulates. So every day he picks up every bit of it he can find, and he records how many of each item he collects. He even saves much of it so he can document the annual accumulation with a photograph. He said the problem seems to be getting worse.

Last year, for instance, he picked up 2,380 plastic bottles, 1,330 mylar balloons and 395 drinking straws.

A quahogger for 30 years, Dennis said he “got a taste for trash” while monitoring piping plovers at Goosewing Beach here for The Nature Conservancy about a decade ago.

“It really bothers me. The first time I walked with the dog, I came back with over 100 mylar balloons,” he said. “If I can start a conversation with people about it, that’s great. But most people just don’t care.”

Dennis estimated that about half of the trash he finds was dropped recently by people using the beaches. The other half drifted in on ocean currents and could have come from anywhere. He sometimes finds items covered in gooseneck barnacles, a species not found locally that Dennis said probably drifted north on the Gulf Stream.

“Over a typical year, the largest volume of stuff I pick up is commercial fishing gear,” he said. “You get huge pieces of netting all over the place, little pieces of green twine, pieces of tires they use on the draggers.”

The problem of marine debris and beach trash is overwhelming. According to the documentary, “A Plastic Ocean,” about 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Much of it is still out there just waiting to be consumed by fish, sea turtles, albatrosses and other marine creatures. The plastic that isn’t consumed by wildlife eventually washes up on a beach.

July Lewis, who coordinates beach cleanups throughout the state for Save The Bay, said there are two aspects to the issue of marine debris: aesthetics and wildlife impacts.

“No one wants to come to a beach that’s covered in trash,” she said. “It makes a difference in how people can enjoy our beaches.”

From a wildlife perspective, however, it can be a life-or-death issue. Sea turtles consume plastic bags and latex balloons that they mistake for jellyfish; whales that feed on large quantities of plankton can’t separate out the microplastics from the edible microorganisms; and bits of plastic get caught in the gills of fish and the stomachs of birds.

“Even if it’s not fatal, it’s a burden on these animals,” Lewis said. “It’s hard to calculate exactly what that burden is and what the mortality may be from it, but it’s increasing because we know that the amount of plastics in our ocean is increasing. Most everything that lives in the ocean has some plastic in them.”

Lewis noted that monofilament fishing line is especially dangerous to marine life, because animals can easily become entangled in it.

“It’s meant to be invisible and unbreakable, so it’s a serious entanglement hazard to marine life,” she said.

Nearly 1,500 pieces of fishing line at least a yard long were picked up on Rhode Island beaches last September as part of the International Coastal Cleanup. In addition, Lewis said the event’s 2,205 volunteers removed about 46,000 cigarette butts, 7,500 plastic bottles, 4,800 glass bottles, 13,000 pieces of plastic, 10,500 food wrappers and 5,700 plastic bags from 65 miles of Ocean State shoreline.

Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access, a Middletown-based nonprofit that organizes dozens of beach cleanups on Aquidneck Island annually, said the problem of plastics in the ocean continues to increase.

“By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” he said. “That’s a pretty scary statistic.”

In the past 10 years, his group has removed nearly 95,000 pounds of debris from Aquidneck Island beaches.

“We’re still finding debris left on the shoreline from the storm surge of Hurricane Bob and Hurricane Sandy, some of which has been out there for 20 years,” he said.

Clean Ocean Access has adopted a unique technology used at marinas on the West Coast to help address the problem. The group has installed a trash skimmer in Newport Harbor that uses a Dumpster-sized contraption with a motorized pump to suck floating debris — as well as oil and other pollutants — into the container for proper disposal. Between August and December of last year, it collected more than 6,000 pounds of debris. McLaughlin aims to install four more at other marinas around the state next year.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” he said. “It looks like it’s doing nothing, but when you come back eight hours later, it’s collected a lot of stuff.”

With Earth Day approaching, McLaughlin and Lewis encourage Rhode Islanders to join in some of the many local beach cleanups taking place this month. Save The Bay-sponsored cleanups can be found here, or join Clean Ocean Access at a cleanup of the Cliff Walk on April 22 from 10 a.m.-noon.

Clean Ocean Access is also sponsoring a screening of the film “A Plastic Ocean” at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport on April 26 at 6:30 p.m.

“In the grand scheme of things, picking up someone else’s trash on the beach isn’t changing people’s habits,” Dennis said. “But in my little niche, it’s making a difference."

Todd McLeish runs a wildlife blog.

Upland New England's golden age

Thetford Academy, Thetford, Vt., as seen in a 19th Century woodblock.

Thetford Academy, Thetford, Vt., as seen in a 19th Century woodblock.

‘’The fifty years between 1790 and 1840 were the upland {of New England} region’s golden age. The people who came to push the frontier out of the New England hills during this half-century brought the region its golden age of national importance in many fields, such as politics, invention, and intellectual thought. Most visible was the example it gave of pioneer determination, and what it could do in domesticating the wilderness.’’

“By the 1790s, the whole of New England’s upland region began to take on a homogeneous character. From the affluent hilltop town of Litchfield, in Connecticut, to the modest little communities in Maine and upper New Hampshire, there were solid homes, vistas of cleared land, white churches, and active mills….Academies sprouted up in very country seat: ornate buildings, whose impressive facades promised an Athenian future for our young nation. The academies shared the village center with churches of many denominations – Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal – whose parishioners came north to escape taxes levied to support Congregationalism, then the state religion in Connecticut and Massachusetts.’’

-- From Upland New England: Life Past and Present, by William F. Robinson

The green in Lyme, N.H.

The green in Lyme, N.H.

Universities' administrative bloat and edifice complex

UMass - Boston.

UMass - Boston.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com.

The severe fiscal problems of the University of Massachusetts at Boston are pretty representative of those of much of higher education: Endless over-budget building as  college presidents seek to erect monuments to themselves; the hiring of ever more overpaid administrators with vague and trendy titles even as tuitions surge, and ever higher percentages of faculties are “adjuncts’’ who barely earn minimum wage. Meanwhile, too many schools strive to be complicated research universities instead of focusing on teaching because “research’’ sounds much more glamorous.

What UMass Boston (and the state) needs isfor it to be a first-class local “commuter’’ school focused on teaching, and to leave the research to UMass’s flagship institution – UMass at Amherst and the state’s famous private research universities. UMass Boston will never win an arms race with UMass Amherst, let alone Harvard and MIT.

An example of the vacuous jobs being created at UMass Boston: Tom Sannicandro, a former state legislator from Ashland, Mass., just got the job of“director of the Institute for Community Inclusion’’ at  a $165,000-a-year  salary, along with juicy benefits.  Keith Motley, the now ousted chancellor (basically president but chancellor sounds more royal) whose oversize ambitions  and edifice complex at the institution helped put it into a deficit of tens of millions of dollars, will now go on sabbatical with a salary of $355,059.  His salary last year was $422,000.

When that long vacation is over, Mr. Motley, a professional bureaucrat and former basketball coach, will return as a $240,000-a-year faculty member teaching…? Well, that hasn’t be disclosed.

What a scam.

The corruption that has produced obscene compensation for public company C-suites, regardless of how well they do their jobs, has long since infected public and private higher education, too.

Chris Powell: Conn. to replace Mass. gamblers with its own

MANCHESTER, Conn.

With their joint venture to put a casino in East Windsor, Conn., to intercept potential traffic to the resort casino being built just over the Massachusetts line, in Springfield, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indian tribes say they aim to save jobs for Connecticut and gambling royalty revenue for state government.

This isn't quite accurate. The real objective of the interceptor casino is to replace gamblers from Massachusetts who have been patronizing the tribes' casinos in southeastern Connecticut and who are expected to start gambling in Springfield instead. The Massachusetts gamblers are to be replaced in East Windsor with gamblers from Connecticut itself.

This change in the source of gamblers and revenue should bear heavily on the General Assembly's decision whether to authorize the casino in East Windsor. For it is one thing to draw money from Massachusetts gamblers and send them home with the consequences of their excesses and addictions and their increased inclinations to rob and embezzle. At least then the money comes from out of state and the social burden is borne there.

It is something else to draw money from Connecticut gamblers and stick Connecticut with the consequences of excessive gambling. For if the casino revenue is to be drawn from Connecticut itself, it will come only from other commerce in the state, and the social burden of increased gambling will be borne here.

What then is the advantage of saving casino jobs in Connecticut if those jobs come at the expense of other commerce and jobs in the state? And gambling royalty revenue to state government cannot be fairly calculated without also calculating the expense of increased financial crime and broken homes and lives.

The casino racket is just about finished for state government. Connecticut has pushed its neighboring states into the business and now there's no one left to plunder but the state's own people. There's little profit in that except for the casino operators.

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 This is income tax week, and a new book by Vanessa Williamson of the Brookings Institution argues that Americans on the whole are "proud to pay taxes," considering it their civic duty to support their government. But on the national level, rather than the state and municipal levels, taxes are not really needed to support the government at all, since the national government has the inherent power of money creation and to finance its operations it does not need to borrow money or obtain gold or any other monetary commodity.

The purposes of taxation at the national level are quite different. In 1946 the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Beardsley Ruml, described them this way: "1. As an instrument of fiscal policy to help stabilize the purchasing power of the dollar. " 2. To express public policy in the distribution of wealth and income, as in the case of the progressive income and estate taxes. "3. To express public policy in subsidizing or penalizing various industries and economic groups. " 4. To isolate and assess directly the costs of certain national benefits, such as highways and Social Security."

That is, the purpose of federal taxation is to advance certain social and economic policies, to shape the people's behavior, and to allocate power in society. So while people justly can be proud of paying taxes on the state and municipal levels, where their taxes really do underwrite government, and while they can be proud of their country, on the national level their taxes are mainly the mechanism by which government controls them. On the whole those controls may be good ones but there's nothing particularly to be proud of in doing as one is told. Those controls are just the terms of the right to live in the country.

Chris Powell, a frequent contributor to New England Diary, is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.