Robert Whitcomb: Ports, panhandlers, dictators in the Internet, Italo-American adventures


This first ran in my “Digital Diary’’ column in GoLocal, which appears every Thursday. I will usually make minor revisions/updates before the column runs here.

You may have read about the Panama Canal expansion, which will boost business for U.S. East Coast ports, including Quonset/Davisville and Providence. More volume in our local -- and for decades underused -- ports will mean more jobs, more business formation and lower consumer costs (for some products) hereabouts.

So a $20 million bond issue, to be on the state ballot in November,  to expand the Port of Providence looks quite charming, as does a $50 million bond issue for expanding Quonset/Davisville.

But there’s a slight problem: GoLocal found out that ProvPort, the nonprofit operator of the Port of Providence, paid management fees to its sister for-profit company of more than $11 million over the three most recently reported years – half of ProvPort’s total revenue-- and it’s not clear for what.

Bill Brody and Ray Meador (who lives in California), two players in creating the Wyatt Detention Center, in Central Falls, and linked to its fiscal disaster, would benefit again from public financing if voters approve  the bonds. Mr. Brody is a lawyer who is ProvPort's sole employee, at $225,000 year, and Mr. Meador is a co-owner and the manager of non-profit ProvPort's sister for-profit company, Waterson Terminal.

Presumably we’ll hear more about what those management fees cover and who and how certain individuals would benefit from the port’s expansion, in addition, of course, to the public.

The trouble with opaque operations like ProvPort is that the reality or perception of insider deals can kill such fine ideas as port expansion by pumping up the paralyzing cynicism that makes it so difficult to get big public projectsdone in the United States.

I’d feel better if the state took over the Port of Providence and coordinated it with the very well run Quonset/Davisville.  

I should add, as my friend Chris Hunter reminds me,   that there are several private terminals in the Port of Providence (Sprague Energy, Sims Metal Management, Motiva, Capitol Terminal and Exxon Mobile) that are very successful and don't need a port authority telling them what to do with their business.  


Quite a panhandler proliferation in Providence! A favored site is in front of the Marriott Hotel on Orms Street at the intersection with Charles, where traffic lights trap drivers. At least one beggar, sometimes lying on his/her back to enjoy the sunshine,  often occupies the thin median strip from morning to dusk.

The beggars seem to be well organized (sometimes with what seems to be an iPhone-armed manager) and able to extract money from  many drivers. (I suspect that their take is not reported to the tax authorities but is adequate to pay for cigarettes.) Are many drivers sympathetic because they know that the panhandlers will never find jobs as lucrative as begging in these days of downward mobility, or just embarrassed? The beggars often greet me with a hearty “hihowareya!?”


Congress should block an Obama administration plan that would make it harder to try to protect freedom of expression on the Internet. The White House wants to let the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) free itself from the U.S. oversight of the Internet it has had since the 1990s.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the new arrangement would give dictatorships much more influence over the ICANN board by letting them them vote on bylaw changes and the  ICANN budget and remove free-speech advocates from the board.

Commerce Department official Larry Stricklin, struggling to defend the plan, told The Washington Post, “At the end of the day, this whole system is built on trust.” Who will trust Vladimir Putin’s Russia and/or Xi Jinping’s China not to use their new powers to further quash online dissent?


Edward A. Carosi, founder of the Uncle Tony’s Pizza chain, has self-published a wild novel with the stately name of The Arrival/The Struggle/The Ascendency about three generations of Italo-Americans. Mr. Carosi starts the story in a poor hill town in Italy and goes through Rhode Island, Vietnam and Calcutta (Mother Teresa presiding!), weaving among romances and wars and corpses and entrepreneurs, including the mobster variety.

Some of the characters  enter clichedom – the women tend to be gorgeous and curvaceous (the mammary lingers on), the men handsome except for some Raymond Patriarca types. Some characters start out bad and get  predictably worse, but end up redeeming themselves. Others remain stock villains throughout while some stay implausibly good.

Mr. Carosi is not a professional writer, but he has narrative drive: You keep turning the pages. And he has a strong sense of place and 20th Century history that New Englanders in particular will savor. Somebody could turn this into saleable 120-page screenplay.   


Donald Trump doesn’t seem to know that being president of the United States means being head of state and not just another politician. That suggests that at least some dignity and restraint is called for. Mr. Trump’s narcissism seems to preclude those qualities. Still, he could defeat the very able but, as is her  husband, very greedy Hillary Clinton.  The Brexit vote in Britain may suggest how close the presidential vote could be.


An evening last week was so cool that it reminded us of how soon September will come.

Robert Whitcomb is the overseer of New England Diary.