Llewellyn King: In U.K.: Sex, booze, rock and Jihadism

  It is a simple question, but there are only fragments of an answer. The question is: Why do so many Muslims, born in Britain, turn to Jihadism?

The best numbers available show that more than 500 young, British-born Muslims have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. By comparison, an estimated 100 Americans have taken up arms for the Islamic State. As the population of the United States is 313 million, compared to 63 million for the whole of Britain, the disparity is huge.

The “the enemy within,” as the British media call these young people, has deeply disturbed the British public, as it looks to its political leaders to take action. One writer, in The Daily Telegraph, says that the government has been soft when it should have been tough, and tough when it should have been soft.

The truth is that successive British administrations have been silent on the consequences of immigration since the second Churchill government, in 1951-55. Everyone is to blame and no one is to blame.

Britain never saw a large influx of immigrants after the Norman Conquest, in 1066. In fact, it had become quite proud of its tolerance for émigrés; Karl Marx was the exemplar. The Jews were tolerated after the 1650s, but excluded from many occupations and social circles.

Past and present Britain is made up of enclaves remarkably uninterested in each other. Hence, a small island nation can support 53 distinct, regional accents and dialects.

Idealists believed that post-World War II immigration would change Britain for the better, sweeping away its imperial trappings. Actually if anything eroded the class structure, it was the great wave of pop music and fashion in the 1960s.

Surveys show that of the immigrants from the  Indian Subcontinent, the Indians, mostly Hindu, assimilated best and took to business -- and the class system -- with alacrity, many becoming millionaires. The Muslims, primarily from Pakistan, have fared the worst. They assimilated least and imported practices that are a savage affront to British values: forced and under-age marriages, honor killings, and halal butchers, opposed by many British animal-rights groups.

These same values have made life rough for young men of Pakistani descent. For working-class British youth, sex, booze, music and soccer are their safety valves. Sexual frustration is endemic all over the Muslim world; it is at work among devout, young Muslim men in Britain, where sex is celebrated in the culture.

British business had a role in the mix of immigrants in the 1960s. Businesses wanted workers for the textile mills and factories in northern England, who would do the dirty, poorly paid work nobody else wanted. The proprietor of large tire-retreading company boasted to me in 1961 how he had solved the labor problem by recruiting rural Pakistanis, who worked hard and cheaply and kept to themselves. His words have echoed with me down through the years.

This alone does not explain why, for example, a preponderance of the Jihadists are from London, or why some of them seem to be university types from the London School of Economics, King's College London, the School for Oriental and African Studies, and others. If you are young, male and Muslim, and even somewhat religious, it is easy to be convinced that you live among the infidels with their alcohol and preoccupation with coitus.

But, again, it is not explanation enough; not an explanation of why a generation of British-born young men are attracted to the life and values of their distant ancestors, or why they have shown such savagery.

Britain has comforted itself by dealing with self-identified “community leaders” in the Muslim community. Unfortunately the real leaders have been fiery, foreign-born imams who proselytize hatred in the mosques that serve Britain’s 2 million Muslims. The Muslim communities have been hidden in plain sight from the British mainstream.

Llewellyn King (lking@kingpublishing.com) is executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle," on PBS, and a long time international journalist, publisher and business consultant.





Warm-blooded gun













Photo by JAMES J. ORAM, a Connecticut-based photographer specializing in black-and-white images that evoke a lot of moods, although chiefly something between mellowness and melancholy.

The possession of pit bulls in tough neighborhoods suggests that they're meant as signs of strength and protection -- a sort of warm-blooded gun. Mr. Oram has had much opportunity to see pit bulls in some of the gritty old factory towns of the Naugatuck River Valley,  where he lives.

The Naugatuck, by the way,  used to sport a variety of vivid colors from the industrial wastes of varying toxicity that were directly dumped into the river before the arrival of the Environmental Protection Agency. The pollutants would then flow down into Long Island Sound,  where they would help kill fish and birds that they hadn't already been killed upriver.

Mr. Oram's Web site is here.




ACA a boon for 'safety-net' hospitals

Except for states (mostly  in the South) that refused to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the ACA has been a boon for "safety-net'' hospitals that service large numbers of poor people. That's because the ACA, by enabling millions of previously uninsured people to get insurance (many of them via Medicaid programs), has dramatically reduced pressure on hospitals to provide uncompensated care.

See this comment in Cambridge Management Group's Web site.



A notably timid, hypocritical Kerry at Yale



The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is not Ayaan Hersi Ali, and therefore his address to Yale graduates on College Class Day this year was not cancelled by a tremulous administration responding to charges that the appointed speaker had needlessly denigrated Islam.
Yale, one may be thankful, is not Brandeis University, which first announced plans that it would bestow an honorary degree on Hersi Ali and later cancelled her invitation to speak at the college when students and Muslim organizations became restive.
Mr. Kerry, assuredly, is no Hersi Ali. His comments concerning the murderous assault on Christians by Muslim Salafists in the Middle East and Africa are so mild and inoffensive as to be barely noticed at all.
Nor is Mr. Kerry Condoleezza Rice, currently a professor of political economy in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and the first African-American in U.S. history to be appointed Secretary of State. Ms. Rice graciously declined the invitation to speak at Rutgers University when students at the university professed to be agitated by former President George W. Bush’s Iraq War.
Ms. Rice fell victim to academic indignation when leaders of the university’s Islamic organizations, Ahluk Bayt, MuslimGirl and the Muslim Student Organization wrote a letter to Rutgers’s president charging that Ms. Rice, in her official capacity as secretary of state, had been guilty of “grave human rights violations, defrauding the American public” and unequivocally supporting “enhanced torture tactics.”
“During a six-hour ‘occupation’ of a campus office building,” one news outlet reported, “demonstrators labeled Rice a ‘war criminal’ and suggested that her rightful place was not in front of a college commencement crowd but in the docket.”
For a good part of his life, Mr. Kerry said at Yale, hidebound institutions and conventional government had responded laconically to society’s “felt needs.” Mr. Kerry advised the Yale students not to shrink from becoming “disturbers of the peace.” As examples of the incapacity of government to respond quickly and adequately to “felt needs,” Mr. Kerry mentioned  the Civil Rights Movement, the Clean Air Act and, according to a report in a Hartford paper, “ the ending of the war in Vietnam.”
Ah yes – Vietnam. Mr. Kerry is something of an authority on the Vietnam years, a national agony that corresponded neatly with the breakdown of authority in colleges: spitting at returning troops, non-negotiable demands made of college deans by students occupying their offices, and a highly fictionalized view of the role played by soldiers in Vietnam were all characteristics of the age of protest.
The students to whom Mr. Kerry directed his remarks at Yale, unlike the secretary of state, have no personal recollection of the Vietnam War era. They depend for an accurate remembrance of times past upon such as Mr. Kerry, one of the disturbers of the universe during the Vietnam period.
Upon his return from service in Vietnam, Mr. Kerry was not one of the troops spat upon by war protesters, possibly because he eagerly joined their protests as a member of the "Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” Invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1971, Mr. Kerry pulled out all the anti-Vietnam War stops, and then some.
He and other returning soldiers whom he contrasted in his testimony to Thomas Paine’s “sunshine patriots” had just finished conducting in Detroit an investigation into war crimes committed by American troops in Vietnam.
In his congressional testimony, Mr. Kerry reported the findings of the “Winter Soldiers” with which he strongly identified. He wished to emphasize that the details he was providing to the Congress were:
“… not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day to day basis, with the full awareness of officers at every level of command. It’s impossible to describe to you what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. But they did. They relieved the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories of times they personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and  turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown (sic) up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, raised villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war, in addition to the very particular ravaging which is done by the power of this country. We called this investigation the ‘winter solider’ investigation…”
Yale students who may have expected the heroic anti-Vietnam War protester to launch verbal missiles at Islamic terrorists who have only recently cut off the ears and arms and heads of Christians in the Middle East and Northern Africa very likely were disappointed in Mr. Kerry’s College Class Day address, a good part of which was devoted to the ravages to the environment caused by an over-reliance on oil.
China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have just concluded a multibillio- dollar oil deal, shredding whatever serious sanctions might be imposed by Mr. Kerry on a proto-Stalinist Russia now busily dismembering Ukraine.
Don Pesci (donpesci@att.net) is a political columnist writer who lives in Vernon, Conn.

The arts, Alzheimer's and Boomers



A way to help Boomers who get dementia does exist. The power of the arts to improve the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s  disease and to help them connect and reconnect with their families is just beginning to be understood.
A film, which has been described by people in the field as groundbreaking, describes how the worlds of art, science and medicine intersect. It addresses the critical discourse on Alzheimer’s care with far-reaching implications for Baby Boomers, who are reaching the age when they might develop Alzheimer’s.
The documentary is called I Remember Better When I Paint (the trailer is at irememberbetterwhenipaint.com). It is narrated by Olivia de Havilland and provides powerful examples, including that of Rita Hayworth as told by her daughter Yasmin Aga Khan, of how families and other caregivers can use the creative arts to help people with Alzheimer’s. It also includes interviews with neurologists who explain the science behind these hopeful stories. Neurologists in the film explain that parts of the brain related to emotions and creative expression are spared to a large extent. These areas can be stimulated through exposure to the arts.
We hope that this film will help change the way people look at Alzheimer’s.
In her review Gail Sheehy says “It shows an entirely new pathway for engaging with a loved one you thought was lost.”
Berna G Huebner
Director, The Hilgos Foundation, Highland Park, Illinois
Co-Directors of the Film: Eric Ellena and Berna G. Huebner

David Warsh: Maybe next big NYT exit will be Sulzberger


For all the reporting about the unceremonious manner in which Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. replaced executive editor Jill Abramson with Dean Baquet, the strongest evidence that the needle on his tenure as publisher of The New York Times has reached the danger zone is the company’s internal “Innovation Report” that someone at the New York Times Co. leaked last week, perhaps in hopes of offsetting the bad publicity.

Prepared by an eight-person newsroom team led by Sulzberger’s son, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the glossy 96-page report is likely to have the opposite effect. It amounts to a clarion call to blow up the 163-year-old business in order to go into competition with BuzzFeed, Vox, Business Insider, First Look Media, and Huffington Post.

Astoundingly, the report doesn’t so much as mention the Times's’ much more menacing digital competitors, Bloomberg News and Reuters, breakthrough innovators in the news business whose news-gathering resources are far greater than those of the newspaper company. On every page, the “Innovation Report” betrays its authors’ failure to understand what the fundamental business of The Times is about.

Naturally the digital community loved the report.  “One of the key documents of this media age,” declared Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “The End of the Print New York Times,” headlined a Buzzfeed story. “…[P]aints a dark picture of a newsroom struggling more dramatically than is immediately visible to adjust to the digital world, a newsroom that is hampered primarily by its own storied culture,” wrote Myles Tanzer, the BuzzFeed reporter who first got hold of the document.

And, naturally, the document is well written, handsomely designed, and full of informative reflections on reputation-building in the age of social media.  But the framing is off, in a way that is dangerous to the enterprise. Sprinkled throughout are various facts intended to be alarming:  Huffington Post.com has already eclipsed The Times in total readership; Vox.com surpassed the WSJ in total digital readership in 2013.  Yahoo News has signed up Katie Couric as its “global anchor.”

There are two “chapters,” the first about ways of growing the audience for what the Times produces, the second about persuading newsroom staffers that audience-growing is more important than anything else today. Janine Gibson, the former U.S. editor of The Guardian.com, whom the Times unsuccessfully sought to hire, put it this way.

The hardest part for me has been the realization that you don’t automatically get an audience. For someone with a print background, you’re accustomed to the fact that if it makes the editor’s cut – gets into the paper – you’re going to find an audience. It’s entirely the other way around as a digital journalist. The realization that you have to go to find your audience – they’re not going to just come and read it—has been transformative.

And just in case that’s not clear, a couple of paragraphs later, Paul Berry, a Huffington Post founder,

At The New York Times, far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish. At Huffington Post, the article begins its life when you publish.

So it is all about marketing and “audience engagement.”  That makes sense, up to a point:  the world of social media has greatly changed the way that news spreads. But for all its enthusiasm, the report is not a convincing document. The framing is wrong.

There is no thought in it about what is being amplified:  about what “news” is, where it comes from, whence arises the authority of its producer.  There are none of the standard fact-based arguments from history about how the news business has evolved over 150 years: no note taken of the serial threats posed to print newspapers by magazines, radio, television, cable and now the Web. Least of all is there anything in it about the print editions that make newspapers different from Web sites, especially Bloomberg and Reuters. That is the arena in which the real contest will take place.

Instead there are a couple of pages of business school mumbo jumbo about disruptive innovators, stylized charts and allusions to Kodak and digital cameras, Toyota and Detroit. If you are a fan of “Snowfall,” the book-length multimedia story of an avalanche The Times published as a special section in December 2012, of its series of cooking videos  (now discontinued), or its tchotchkes store, you’ll find this report far-sighted.

If, on the other hand,  you want to know what’s going on in Ukraine, what central bankers are thinking around the world, or any of a hundred other pressing questions, you’ll be left scratching your head. Why are Bloomberg and Reuters reports so good on these topics? (Each employs roughly twice as many journalists as The Times, The WSJ around half again as many.) And how significant is it that Bloomberg and Reuters don’t need to print their news to remain highly profitable? An advantage over time?  Or a disadvantage?

I suppose it is unrealistic to expect The Times to be frank about its real vulnerabilities. Perhaps the innovation report is intended mainly as a diversion, to distract from the real changes that are taking place somewhere else. But that is, I think, where the dismissal of Abramson comes in.

The other key player in the drama is Mark Thompson, the man Sulzberger hired in 2012 to be New York Times Co. chief executive.  He arrived under something of a cloud: Had he, as director general of the British Broadcasting Co., ignored reports that a retired on-screen personality had been a sexual predator?  There was, however, no doubt that Thompson had led the BBC through a highly successful adaptation to the digital environment. He’s since shown himself to be a capable executive at The Times.

But, thanks to the British system, under which the owner of every television set, no   matter whether the signal arrives via terrestrial or satellite broadcast, cable or Internet, pays a government fee, which then is used mainly to support the BBC. (ITV and Sky Channel make their way with advertising).  Thus the BBC had a dependable and stable source of income in the years when Thompson engineered its build-out to the Web. Nobody was talking about “the end of British television.”

The Times, which still gets most of it revenues from its print edition, has no such legislatively mandated income stream. So the great schism in the business is between those who expect the paper product to continue to be its main business for many years to come, and those who are pessimistic about print’s future.  Thompson, a broadcast executive, must decide which side he is on.

Whatever the differences in newsroom management style between Abramson and Baquet, they probably pale in comparison for their shared contempt for the pure digital enthusiasm that was the motive force of last week’s “Innovation Report.”  Baquet will do better with the newsroom; his is a gentler mien. Abramson will remain a heroine to those who care about the news.

Baquet is already a hero:  he resigned from as editor of the Los Angeles Times in 2007 rather than make further newsroom cuts. Despite that, he is considered to be more business-savvy than Abramson. But Baquet’s real battle will be, like hers, with the front office, and there, I suspect, equally resolute. As he told one of his own reporters in an interview last week, “The trick of running The New York Times is that you have to keep in mind that it is a very powerful print newspaper with a very appreciative audience. You have to protect that while you go out there and get more readers through other means.”

New York Times Co.’s circulation revenues were $824 million last year. Digital editions contributed $149 million of that (up 33 percent from the year before), meaning print accounted for $675 million, according the annual report. Advertising revenues, were $667 million in 2013, The company doesn’t break out digital vs. print totals, but print advertising presumably brings in far more than digital. So figure five times more ad revenue from print than from digital, and The New York Times Co. last year gained around $1.2 billion from selling newspapers, vs. another $250 million from selling various pixel versions.  A digital-first strategy is obviously a good idea, but how quickly it can be expected to change these ratios is the crux of the matter.

There is, I think, no way The Times can grow rapidly in the years to come (though it can hope to grow steadily, once the advertising world settles down) – certainly not enough to directly challenge the media giants whose revenues are anchored in financial data – Bloomberg, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. But The Times can certainly be a boutique newspaper, becoming more like the Financial Times (another recent convert to the digital-first strategy), appealing to those who recognize New York (and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles) as the capital of the Republic of Fashion and the maker of political taste.

The real question is whether The Times can generate enough profits to keep together the 13 cousins, spouses and grown children of the fourth and fifth generations of the Sulzberger-Ochs clan who have pooled their resources to form a trust to maintain control. This is far above my pay-grade, but I note that as rapidly as the publisher is advancing his son, at least two family members who are alternative leaders for the next generation are working for The Times, Sam Dolnick and David Perpich.

Sulzberger’s 21-year tenure as publisher has been marred by many firings.  It started back with Boston Globe publisher Benjamin Taylor in 1999 (having bought The Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993, The Times sold it and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last year for $70 million). He fired executive editor Howell Raines in 2003, amid the Jayson Blair scandal. (He had chosen Raines in 2001.) Sulzberger fired chief executive officer Janet Robinson in 2011, having appointed her in 2004 (her severance package, which include provisions that required her to remain silent about the matter, totaled $23 million). Last week it was Abramson, whom he appointed executive editor in 2011.

He may finally have finally found his footing. At least he moved swiftly to resolve a situation that had become untenable. My hunch is that there’s another dismissal yet to come at The Times.  The cousins who participate in that family trust may decide to ease Sulzberger into an early retirement. He is 62.  There is plenty of time for him to go into the digital business with his son and to leave running the newspaper to the rest of the family.

David Warsh is a long-time financial journalist and economic historian. He is the proprietor of economicprincipals.com.



Don Pesci: Abe Lincoln and the trials of John Rowland



Former Connecticut Gov.  John Rowland, now a former radio talk show host, may have been “guilty,” in a metaphorical sense, of using his position to advance the political interest of one particular candidate over another.  It has been said that Mr. Rowland had subjected poor Andrew Roraback, at the time a Republican Party candidate for the U.S. House in the 5th District, to a severe interrogation on his radio program, formerly called “Church And State.”

Since being appointed to Connecticut’s Superior Court by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Mr. Roraback has moved out of the political into the less contentious judicial arena. Apparently, Mr. Roraback had suffered no permanent harm, and losing a Hartford Courant endorsement to his Democratic opponent certainly cost the socially progressive Republican Party endorsed candidate more negative votes than Mr. Rowland’s barbed questions.

Mr. Rowland’s preferred candidate for the slot, it has been said, was Lisa Wilson Foley. At the time Mr. Rowland was hard grilling Mr. Roraback, the talk show host was employed as a consultant for Apple Rehab, a business owned by Mrs. Foley’s husband. Mr. Rowland implausibly claims he was assisting Mrs. Foley’s campaign on the side as an “unpaid consultant.”

Similar impostures – though news of them may shock the willfully ignorant – have been deployed in the news business from time immemorial. Abe Lincoln came very near to fighting a duel with one of his outraged political competitors when it was discovered that editorials in a Republican paper had been written on the sly by Mr. Lincoln; actually, one of two of the newspaper pieces had been written by his intended wife. Because it would have been ungentlemanly for Mr. Lincoln to involve his fiancée in the quarrel, he accepted responsibility for the satires but characteristically refused to issue an apology.

Eventually, the matter was settled outside the law courts, without either of the antagonists having used against each other the large military broadswords Mr. Lincoln had selected as his choice of weapon. Mr. Lincoln, who towered over his opponent, hacked off a tree branch with his sword while the two stood facing each other on Blood Island, and the display of superior reach led to an amicable resolution.

Charlie Morse, for many years the chief political writer  of  The Hartford Courant and an unabashed Lowell Weicker-liker, produced tons of columns favorable to then Sen. Lowell Weicker, one of the papers most pampered political pets. The Courant, during Mr. Weicker’s push for an income tax, was solidly in Mr. Weicker’s gubernatorial corner; and so was Mr. Morse, who left The Courant to work on Mr. Weicker’s campaign – even though he continued his column in the pro-Weicker Courant.

There are no laws criminalizing journalistic bad habits.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects partisan and non-partisan journalists alike. Even if the accusation against Mr. Lincoln had been correct, he easily could have won his case in court by draping across his chest the breastplate of The First Amendment – or at least that portion of it that guarantees freedom of political speech.

The freedom-of-religious-expression clause in the very same amendment is not as hotly defended by the media because modern journalism tends to be instinctively anti-clerical.

Some of us who understand why a watchful media should resist authoritarian displays of power cannot for the life of us understand why the same media should be so willing to bed down with gray-headed incumbents whose first term in office coincided with the arrival of Noah’s Arc on Mount Ararat. Surely in our day, incumbent politicians are much more powerful than the ministers and priests who now preside over  the "Bare Ruined Choirs''.

Though Mr. Rowland’s defense attorneys have focused in a motion to dismiss on the charges brought against him, the First Amendment conceivably could be brought into play as a sleeper defense during the promised Rowland trial -- “promised” because it is always possible the trial may be ditched in favor of some plea agreement never made public between Mr. Rowland’s high priced Washington attorneys and prosecutors. Neither Mr. Rowland nor Mrs. Wilson-Foley were practicing politicians at the time Mr. Rowland, essentially a journalist, allegedly “favored” Mrs. Wilson-Foley, an aspiring politician, on his radio program. This means that no political favors either way could have been exchanged for allegedly “corrupt” money received by Mr. Rowland.

It is still very early in “the judicial process.” During Lincoln’s day, matters were adjudicated in courts of law, and instructive precedents were established. Nowadays, justice itself hangs from “process” nooses. Deals are made in private between Star Chamber prosecutors and defense lawyers, and precedence is a stranger at the hidden proceedings. Grand Juries, many political commentators understand,  are Star Chamber proceedings, and Grand Jury findings released to the media are always highly prejudicial. They should be taken by a truly non-partisan critical media with tons of salt.

 Don Pesci is a writer who lives in Vernon, Conn. He may be e-mailed atdonpesci@att.net.


William A. Collins: State banks are a good idea


Vermonters aren’t like the rest of us: They live in a small state with a flinty history and a legendary suspicion of outsiders.

That independent streak gained luster when 15 Vermont towns voted earlier this year to reinforce this independent tradition by approving a proposal to create a state bank.

The Vermont Economic Development Authority would get a license to do what private banks normally do — only with a mandate to serve the public interest no matter what.

This isn’t unprecedented. North Dakota has enjoyed a flourishing state banking system for nearly a century.

Costa Rica set another good precedent. Its public banking dates back to 1949. As of a decade ago, its four state banks held 75 percent or more of all individual deposits.

All this is quite vexing to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As elsewhere, they have muscled Costa Rica to privatize its government-owned businesses. Costa Rica has largely done this, but it won’t let go of its state-owned banks. For some reason, Costa Ricans don’t trust the commercial ones.

No, Americans don’t trust our banks either. But only North Dakota’s state bank remains under public control.

Everywhere else, banking laws have made it very profitable for old-fashioned mutual (non-profit) savings banks, once popular, to sell out their depositors and turn commercial. The executives who accomplish this switch all do very nicely for themselves.

Luckily, credit unions carry on from bygone times as a thorn in the side of the industry, but Wall Street is working hard to extinguish them too. Credit unions depend heavily on their non-profit status to protect them against taxes, so conservative outfits like the Tax Foundation are trying mightily to squash that exemption.

Theoretically, the government is our protector from the avaricious cartel of private banks. Both state and federal laws ostensibly provide us with banking watchdogs which safeguard the honesty and fairness of our saving and borrowing.

That’s really just in theory. Unfortunately, a cynical revolving door regularly sends regulators wheeling into bank jobs and bankers hot-footing it over to regulation. At the same time, lobbyists sap the rectitude of those lawmakers and oversight agencies who you might have thought had our best interests at heart.

Hence, banks feel unrestricted to manipulate credit cards, student loans, mortgages, securitizations, hedge funds, credit default swaps, currency exchanges, and all manner of rigged financial transactions. Our regulators rein them in sometimes, but in many cases not until after the damage is done.

As a result, when mortgages default, neighborhoods collapse, families are ruined, and the economy tanks, the banks go right on — perhaps with their wrists slapped.

One other savings alternative does exist: the U.S. Postal Service. In years gone by, the Postal Service doubled as a bank that had lots of branches and no securitized mortgages.

But given the general lack of trust that  most people have in commercial banks, some lawmakers are looking to bring the Post Office back into banking. That would be a new American Revolution.

 William A. Collins is a former Connecticut state representative, a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn., and a columnist for OtherWords.org, where this column originated.

College pranks, anxiety and tricks of time



(Reposting this, with minor changes, to mark commencement season.)


A few months ago, I was chatting with a Dartmouth College classmate about stuff that happened when we were students in 1966-70. I mentioned someone we knew in common and recalled that he was in a certain fraternity. The guy I was talking with, Denis O'Neil, a screenwriter who recently published a part-memoir, part-novel of that period titled Whiplash: How the Vietnam War Rolled a Hand Grenade into the Animal House, politely corrected me; in fact, this person was in another fraternity.

Time has fragmented and mingled stories in my memory and those of others from that era, now almost half a century ago. One could argue that it was a tumultuous era, and thus it's easy to get things scrambled, but most times are tumultuous and transitional. Mr. O'Neil makes much of the stress caused by the fear of being drafted and sent to Southeast Asia, but as bad as that was, it was much worse for young men in World War II. Whatever. We're all the centers of our own universes, and we create narratives to explain ourselves to ourselves and others and to place ourselves in history.

Certainly, the huge size of the Baby Boomer generation, and technological and social changes of its young times, were dramatic, though I would argue that except for improvements in the rights of racial minorities and women, the transformations caused by the Internet (which increasingly looks as if it has made things worse for most people) have been much bigger than "Sixties'' changes.


Still, it's true that in that period one had the distinct sense of living in a discrete and vivid era, which actually began about 1966 and ended about '73. People who lived in the "Roaring Twenties'' -- 1924 to the Great Crash of October 1929 -- told me in "The Sixties'' that they had had a similar sense back in the Coolidge administration.

Youth is intense, and so the memories the now-autumnal people of "The Sixties'' are intense, if sometimes erroneous. From Mr. O'Neil's book, which centers on pranks, fun,  romance (not always fun) and anxiety, you might think that 80 percent of a male undergraduate's time was spent drunk, seeking young women to have sex with and trying to get out of the draft. In fact, even for non-nerds who disliked what we then called "booking'' (has the World Wide Web come up with its own equivalent phrase?)  most of the time was spent going to class, studying and sleeping, not "raging'' (the word for partying).

After all, a lot of students wanted to get into good graduate schools and then fancy jobs. A lot did, and went on to become perhaps the greediest generation in U.S. history. Mr. O'Neil was wise to have constructed his book at least in part as a novel, letting his imagination and telescoping of events provide a better story for the movies, a business he knows very well. If they do make a film of his story, I'd be interested to see how much of it gives a sense of the more humdrum aspects of college life for middle-to-upper-class late adolescents back then.

L.P. Hartley's line "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'' is much quoted but people don't do things as differently as they might like to think 50 years later.


'The Rule of Nobody' in American life

Citizens who have had it with America's  relentless litigation and paralyzing fear of it, and its turgid and contradictory regulations,  should read Philip K. Howard's The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government, which I (Whitcomb) review in the  latest Weekly Standard.  


Summer folks vs. a would-be oyster farmer

Poor Richard Cook, the Mashpee, Mass., fisherman who wants to put in a little (two-acre) oyster farm a quarter mile off the summer homes of rich  people in that Cape Cod town. He would seem to have gained the permits, etc., needed for the project, but..... The rich folks (who include the Krafts, who own the New England Patriots) are using every legal trick in the book and their influence in the Massachusetts legislature to  stop what would be a very quiet, low key and environmentally friendly project that speaks to the the nifty idea of expanding one of New England most lucrative (and relatively few) cash crops -- shellfish. The persistent Mr. Cook has been trying to do the oyster farm since 2011 but failed to adequately consider the ability of a few well-heeled people to use America's stuck-in-molasses civil law and legislative Christmas-treeing to stop anything they don't like by making the lawyers' fees too expensive for most people.

In fact, such oyster farms used to be all up and and down the sandy sections of southern New England's coast. They were considered charming,   a daily character-building  example of hard work and a healthy connection to Mother Nature.   They provided inspiration for many painters. Among other benefits,  such shellfish farms help filter and clean the water. Popponesset Bay would be better having the oyster farm.

The summer gentry seek  to create a bogus "marine sanctuary'' via a bill on Beacon Hill to cover the  area where Mr. Cook wants to set up his oyster farm. (I suspect that these summer folks love to eat oysters -- from somewhere!) Sadly for  Mr. Cook,  he doesn't have the cash for campaign contributions that might get the attention of  the most important solons.

Rich summer folks  increasingly throw their weight around, and not just in their  summer colonies,  and many seem willing to stop anything in their sight that might remind them that other people have to make money,  if  not from "investments,'' even if it's in as traditional and healthy sector as shellfish aquaculture. (The battles against coastal wind turbines within distant sight of mansions is a more famous war.)

I have nothing against rick folks -- some of my favorite relatives and friends are in that clan! But I don't like grossly unequal application of influence.

Mr. Cook has already moved the proposed oyster  farm a bit further away from the rich folks on, who often act as though they own everything from from their front porches to the oceanside horizon. But nothing is enough for people who think that they can buy anything.

Still, I suppose that it should be noted that town officials themselves seem to favor the farm, despite the big property taxes paid by the Krafts.




Will Bill White be the Perot of 2016?


What might a successful Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 look like who is not Hillary Rodham Clinton?  The Republican Party can’t be expected to field a successful mainstream candidate until some of its serious kinks have been worked out – at least another cycle or two.  This time the Democratic Party nominee is more than likely to win. What happens after that depends on who that candidate is.

The former secretary ofsState has had a splendid career since striking out on her own as a senator from New York in 2001. It would be good to have a woman president.  But, to my mind, Clinton is too tied to battles going back to 1992 and before to hope that, once elected, she could win over her many critics and steer the nation back towards consensus.

A non-polarizing rival for the nomination might look like Bill White. He’s a personable fellow, 59 years old, a former litigator, oil and gas entrepreneur, deputy secretary of energy (1995-97), real-estate developer, and successful three-term mayor of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. His candidacy might  have seemed a logical possibility, except that he was defeated by incumbent Rick Perry in the Texas gubernatorial election in 2010, the year of the Tea Party.  End of story, at least on the surface.

Mainly, I think of White because he has written a book, America's Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse, which seems to me like a very promising platform for a Democratic candidate. White has zeroed in on the long-term federal borrowing crisis that affects every aspect of America’s future role in the world. He has placed it, credibly, in historical perspective. That in turn demonstrates a deep political intelligence.

“To understand what recently has gone wrong,” he writes, “it helps to know what had once gone right.” Five  times in the past the United States has found itself deeply in debt:  after the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and the  16hard years of the Great Depression and World War II.

In each case the U.S. borrowed for a clear and generally agreed-upon purpose: to preserve the union, to expand and connect its borders (the Louisiana Purchase, in particular), to wage war, and to compensate in severe economic downturns, beginning with the Panic of 1819. In each instance, relying on a political tradition that White traces to budgetary procedures instituted by the Founding Fathers, Congress found the political will to pay it down afterwards – until 2001.

Then, says White, the 220-year-old fiscal tradition collapsed.  The federal government cut taxes and borrowed to pay for two wars, and a rising proportion of its domestic operating expenses as well. George W. Bush took office pledging to reduce the national debt by $2 trillion and create a $1 trillion rainy-day fund.  Instead he increased the debt by 50 percent, from $5.7 trillion to $9 trillion – before the Panic of 2008!

In the long and deep recession that followed,  federal debt exploded, to $16.7 trillion last year, or something like $120,000 for every working American.  Debt coverage, the measure banks commonly use to judge credit-worthiness of businesses and individuals, rose to nine times the revenue available to pay the debt.

America’s Fiscal Constitution is gracefully written, but it is not an easy read: 410 pages of narrative, with another 150 pages of notes, bibliography and tables, and only three charts in the entire book to illustrate the argument. White describes in some detail each prior episode of borrowing and, with a politician’s eye, the hard legislative compromises and monetary policy accommodations that were subsequently required to restore the tradition of more-or-less balanced budgets.

None of these chapters is better than the set-piece with which the book begins – the 1950 battle between President Harry Truman and Republican Sen. Robert Taft, of Ohio, over tax cuts on the eve of the Korean War, contrasted with the collapse of the tradition of fiscal responsibility in 2003, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq.

So what happened in 2001?  White sees the loss of discipline as having happened in two stages.  The first he traces to the run-up to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.  Traditionally the GOP had campaigned on promises to maintain balanced budgets. He describes the role of then-Congressmen David Stockman, of Michigan, and Jack Kemp, of New York, and Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jude Wanniski in fomenting a competition between two Santa Clauses – Democrats who delivered more services, and Republicans who delivered lower taxes. That lowering of taxes, it was promised, would pay for itself by stimulating growth.

Candidate George H.W. Bush, soon to be vice president, saw “voodoo economics” Gradually, Ronald Reagan perceived envisioned a “supply-side revolution.” White writes, “Never in the nation’s history had a president proposed large, simultaneous spending increases and tax cuts when the federal budget already had a deficit.”

But Reagan was more nearly a fiscal conservative than a heedless spender, White notes.  He expected higher inflation to make up for lost revenues by carrying taxpayers into higher brackets. And he gave his blessing to an historic rebalancing of the Social Security Trust Fund.  Not until George W. Bush arrived in 2001 was traditional discipline truly lost.

Presented by the Clinton administration with a budget surplus accumulated through a combination of savvy policies (tax increases combined with monetary easing) and good luck (the Internet boom), Bush immediately sought tax cuts, explaining that the resulting deficits were “incredibly good news” because of the “straitjacket” they imposed on Congress. The straitjacket notwithstanding, Bush went to war first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, too. Congress cut taxes again. “Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes,” explained House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, of Texas.

What accounts for this sixth great spike in borrowing, unaccompanied by any of the traditional rationale?  The great advantage of White’s argument from history is that it underscores how weighty must be any satisfying explanation for the current mess. Oedipal rivalry in the Bush family is a non-starter.

My own preferred suspect is the entry into civic discourse of claims to authority derived from scientific economics in the years after World War II  This occurred gradually, first in the guise of a “Keynesian Revolution”  that put “demand management” through deficit spending at the center of the conduct economic affairs; then in the form of carelessly conjured “supply management” of the economy through tax cuts.  Plain old political pandering played an even larger role.

White, a Democrat, carefully delineates the counter-revolution, but he has little to say about the rise of the “New Economics,” except to note that when John F. Kennedy, in a memorable commencement speech at Yale University in 1962, urged young Americans to develop fiscal policies based on “technical answers, not political answers,” a Gallup Poll a few weeks later found that 72 percent of Americans opposed tax cuts financed by debt. Nevertheless, “guns and butter” policies of the Vietnam War followed.

I have nothing against technical economics; indeed, writing about it is how I make my living. Its findings, large and small, have greatly improved the lot of billions of persons around the world over the last eighty years. But I do think that its claims to authority, especially in public finance, have enjoyed a somewhat overblown in recent decades, in contrast to the common-sense strictures of the American fiscal tradition whose two-hundred-year arc White describes so clearly.

White identifies four time-honored conventions whose return would begin to solve the problem of today’s massive debt: clear accounting; “pay as you go” budget planning; separate budgeting for government trust funds; and explicit congressional authorization for each new debt.  Is such an extensive simplification politically possible?  Certainly not at the moment.

Might Bill White play a Perot-like role in the 2016 election?  I have no idea, though I hope so.  I do know that the search for alternatives to Hillary Clinton will continue. People will say that the hope for a new and transformative figure is what brought Barack Obama to office in 2008. In my opinion, the strategy has worked pretty well, for all the acrimony.  It is simply taking longer than had been hoped.

 David Warsh, a long-time financial journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com


Paul F.M. Zahl: Movie offers guide to Harvard Black Mass


"Order and chaos'' (mixed media), by LYNDA CUTRELL, at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, June 1-29.


As a Harvard grad and an Episcopal minister, I am dismayed by the prospect of the university's sanctioning a Black Mass for tonight (May 12), within Memorial Hall.

But what I really want to megaphone to all concerned is this: Wake up, Harvard (not to mention the Satanic Temple of New York City), and watch more horror movies!

You could all spare yourselves a lot of trouble if you watched more horror movies. Specifically, you need to see that unregarded but rich Hammer horror film from the early 1970s, entitled Dracula A.D. 1972. For those who care, and this writer cares very much, Hammer Studios in England produced dozens of luridly wonderful horror movies from the late '50s through the early '70s. These immortalized such U.K. character actors as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Fans of these movies tend to regard the instantly dated Dracula A.D. 1972 as the nadir of Hammer's output. But in light of what's slated to happen today in Cambridge, Mass., it's risen to the top of my list.

This is because Dracula A.D. 1972 anticipates in detail a scenario that has already unfolded. To wit, the villain in the movie, whose made-up name in the story is 'Johnny Alucard' (the surname, of course, is ''Dracula'' backwards), looks, dresses and talks like the spokesman for the Satanic Temple of New York City. Secondly, he keeps telling his gullible young friends in the movie to ''Keep cool, birds'' -- the script is deliriously filled with faux-Flower Child and Swinging London colloquialisms. "This happening I'm asking you to jive to is just a stunt. Just a bit of fun, mates."

To their acute misfortune, members of "Johnny Alucard's''' circle believe him when he says: "This is just a re-enactment."

The movie's staging of the Black Mass itself is extremely well done. The director, Alan Gibson, is sure-footed in the blocking and the angles; and during the Mass, which takes place in a ruined Memorial-Hall-type building, a deconsecrated church damaged during the Blitz, in World War II, the movie gets serious. The elements of a real Black Mass are all there, just as they will be, presumably, this evening in Cambridge within the once hallowed walls of the university's memorial to its Civil War dead. The parallels between now and this absurd but tight English movie are breathtaking.

Finally, the church comes into it. But not priest, not bishops, not archbishop.. Rather, old-fashioned religion comes in to Dracula A.D. 1972 through the person of an aging physician named ''Lorrimer Van Helsing". (Who ever thought of that first name? The writer should have been knighted on the spot!)

Anyway, ''Lorrimer Van Helsing'' strides into the movie, an old man poignantly concerned about the well-being of his impressionable niece. (His niece has come under the spell of ''Johnny Alucard".) Fortunately for her, her uncle intervenes, with cross and stake, and Jessica van Helsing is saved.

This is a classic instance, which occurs often in English horror and sci-fi movies, in which wise members of the older generation are the only ones who know enough to save clueless members of the younger one. (Usually, the character actor Andre Morell played these roles, though John Mills did once, too.)

I wish that Harvard University officials would go straight to Barnes and Noble, and buy their very reasonably priced copy of Dracula A.D. 1972. It's in all the stores as I write. (Target, too.)

A personal note in conclusion: Three times during my ministry in the Episcopal Church, I was forced to get up close and personal with Satanists. Somehow they succeeded in inveigling members of our parish youth group in Westchester County, N.Y., to take part in a Black Mass.

They "staged" this on the grounds of a country club up on the Hudson. Two of the young participants -- and I had to clean up the bones of living animals that had been sacrificed during the service (and had to change the locks on the parish sacristy because Communion wafers were being stolen) -- were scarred indelibly by what they were lured into doing. I never of them smile again.

I also got to know a languid old trust fund Satanist, who lived in London and had the most beautiful personalized Satanic stationery.

Harvard, wake up! Buy this movie and watch it. And it may not be quite as campy as it first appears.

The Rev. Paul F.M. Zahl is an Episcopal minister and a theologian.

Addendum by Robert Whitcomb: So will we see the Prophet Mohammed in drag in the next Hasty Pudding Show at Harvard, or indeed portrayed in any public way on Harvard's campus as less than perfect? Or course not -- and not because of any particular respect by a mostly secularized Harvard community but because of the physical fear of offending followers of a religion a few of whose adherents are famously violent.

Fear is a key ingredient of hypocrisy.

Chris Powell: Letting Tenet buy 4 Conn. hospitals would hit public hard


Plans to sell four nonprofit community hospitals in Connecticut -- in Waterbury, Bristol, Manchester and Vernon -- to a national hospital chain, Tenet Healthcare Corp., raise two big issues of public policy.

The first issue is the political economy of medicine. It is proceeding as follows.

Gov. Dannell Malloy and the General Assembly already have reduced substantially state government's financial support for hospitals. This has pushed weaker hospitals toward insolvency and induced them to look for buyers, including for-profit companies. While state officials say the insolvent hospitals have no choice but to sell out, state government itself is largely responsible for that insolvency.

The nonprofit hospitals acquired by for-profits will lose their tax exemption and start paying state corporation and municipal property taxes. The acquired hospitals will recover their new tax expenses by increasing charges to patients and insurance companies.

The insurers will recover their increased costs by raising premiums to policyholders, thereby getting blamed by the public for price increases that are actually state tax increases.

State officials then will congratulate themselves on their new revenue and spend it to increase compensation for the government and welfare classes that support them at election time.

All this will be the product of a supposedly liberal Democratic regime and more of what passes for liberalism — pious plunder.

The second policy issue here is control of the hospital business, a change from local control to distant control by the Wall Street funds that own Tenet. State government could appropriate for local control simply by adequately covering the uninsured. If, as hospitals say, they can't find investment capital with which to modernize operations and improve efficiency, state government could create a capital fund for them as it has created other capital funds.

Instead state government lately has appropriated for:

* A bus highway from Hartford to New Britain even as the busiest commuter railroad in the country, the one serving Fairfield County, repeatedly broke down.

* All sorts of corporate welfare in the name of economic development less plausible than the economic development that might come from modernized hospitals. (Who can forget the burrito shops in Colchester and East Lyme that took state money and ran?)

* And, of course, incessant raises and benefit increases for government employees, often euphemized as “aid to education” when it is only aid to educators.

Public forums held last week by Tenet and Eastern Connecticut Health Network, whose hospitals in Manchester and Vernon would be acquired, illuminated the dubious nature of the undertaking.

The companies refused to answer critical questions put to them by the (Manchester, Conn.) Journal Inquirer, including whether “golden parachutes” have been promised to ECHN's already extravagantly paid executives; whether there would be any guarantees of hospital staff levels after an acquisition; and about exactly how Tenet would make the hospitals profitable. ECHN's president did reveal that the hospital in Vernon would be guaranteed three more years of operation, which meant that its closing is contemplated if not already planned.

While ECHN's executives maintain that the hospital company can't regain solvency on its own, Tenet obviously sees plenty of money ahead in the hospital business, if only through fraud. Over the last 10 years the corporation has paid a billion dollars in fines for misconduct and has appropriated another $27 million for possible new fines.

The fate of the two ECHN hospitals now is in the hands of their 257 community corporators, whose service seems to have been a mere formality in light of what they have slept through -- not only the extravagant executive salaries but also the lucrative contracts given by ECHN to members of its self-dealing Board of Trustees.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Respond via rwhitcomb51@gmail.com

Blame Russia for Russian aggression

By ROBERT WHITCOMB (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com)

Some denounce the United States for Russia’s reversion to brutal expansionism into its “Near Abroad” because we encouraged certain Central and Eastern European countries to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The argument is that NATO’s expansion led “Holy Russia” to fear that it was being “encircled.” (A brief look at a map of Eurasia would suggest the imprecision of that word.)

In other words, it’s all our fault. If we had just kept the aforementioned victims of past Russian and Soviet expansionism out of the Western Alliance, Russia wouldn’t have, for example, attacked Georgia and Ukraine. If only everyone had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and decided to trust him.

Really? Russia has had authoritarian or totalitarian expansionist regimes for hundreds of years, with only a few years’ break. How could we have necessarily done anything to end this tradition for all time after the collapse of the Soviet iteration of Russian imperialism? And should we blame Russia’s closest European neighbors for trying to protect themselves from being menaced again by their gigantic and traditionally aggressive neighbor to the east? Russia, an oriental despotism, is the author of current Russian imperialism.

Some of the Blame America rhetoric in the U.S. in the Ukraine crisis can be attributed to U.S. narcissism: the idea that everything that happens in the world is because of us. But Earth is a big, messy place with nations and cultures whose actions stem from deep history and habits that have little or nothing to do with big, self-absorbed, inward-looking America and its 5 percent of the world population. Americans' ignorance about the rest of the planet -- even about Canada! -- is staggering, especially for a "developed nation''.

And we tend to think that “personal diplomacy” and American enthusiasm and friendliness can persuade foreign leaders to be nice. Thus Franklin Roosevelt thought that he could handle “Joe Stalin” and George W. Bush could be pals with another dictator (albeit much milder) Vladimir Putin. They would, our leaders thought, be brought around by our goodwill (real or feigned).

But as a friend used to say when friends told him to “have a nice day”: “I have other plans.”

With the fall of the Soviet Empire, there was wishful thinking that the Russian Empire (of which the Soviet Empire was a version with more globalist aims) would not reappear. But Russian xenophobia, autocracy, anger and aggressiveness never went away.

Other than occupying Russia, as we did Japan and Western Germany after World War II, there wasn’t much we could do to make Russia overcome its worst impulses. (And Germany, and even Japan, had far more experience with parliamentary democracy than Russia had.) The empire ruled from the Kremlin is too big, too old, too culturally reactionary and too insular to be changed quickly into a peaceable and permanent democracy. (Yes, America is insular, too, but in different ways.)

There’s also that old American “can-do” impatience — the idea that every problem is amenable to a quick solution. For some reason, I well remember that two days after Hurricane Andrew blew through Dade County, Fla., in 1992, complaints rose to a chorus that President George H.W. Bush had not yet cleaned up most of the mess. How American!

And of course, we’re all in the centers of our own universes. Consider public speaking, which terrifies many people. We can bring to it extreme self-consciousness. But as a TV colleague once reminded me, most of the people in the audience are not fixated on you the speaker but on their own thoughts, such as on what to have for dinner that night. “And the only thing they might remember about you is the color of the tie you’re wearing.”

We Americans could use a little more fatalism about other countries.


James V. Wyman, a retired executive editor of The Providence Journal, was, except for his relentless devotion to getting good stories into the newspaper, the opposite of the hard-bitten newspaper editor portrayed in movies, usually barking out orders to terrified young reporters. Rather he was a kindly, thoughtful and soft-spoken (except for a booming laugh) gentleman with a capacious work ethic and powerful memory.

He died Friday at 90, another loss for the "legacy news media.''


My friend and former colleague George Borts died last weekend. He was a model professor — intellectually rigorous, kindly and accessible. As an economist at Brown University for 63 years (!) and as managing editor of the American Economic Review, he brought memorable scholarship and an often entertaining skepticism to his work. And he was a droll expert on the law of unintended consequences.

George wasn’t a cosseted citizen of an ivory tower. He did a lot of consulting for businesses, especially using his huge knowledge of, among other things, transportation and regulatory economics, and wrote widely for a general audience through frequent op-ed pieces. He was the sort of (unpretentious) “public intellectual” that we could use a lot more of.


I just read Philip K. Howard’s “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government.” I urge all citizens to read this mortifying, entertaining and prescriptive book about how our extreme legalism and bureaucracy imperil our future. I’ll write more about the book in this space.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com), a former editor of The Providence Journal's editorial pages, is a Providence-based writer and editor, former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and a partner and senior adviser at Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a consultancy for health systems, and a fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.

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Black Mass at Harvard

Some students from Harvard's Extension School plan to hold a Satanic “Black Mass” in a pub at Harvard's Memorial Hall (named in honor of Harvard's Civil War dead) on May 12. Needless to say, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston is livid, especially because a consecrated host reportedly might be used.

Harvard's administration says in effect that it can't do anything about the plan.

George Borts, 1927-2014

George H. Borts, 86, a distinguished economist, writer and editor, died May 2 in Providence.

Professor Borts was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1927, and educated at Columbia University, where he earned an undergraduate degree at 19 and worked on the student newspaper, The Spectator. He received both his master’s degree (1949) and Ph.D. (1953) from the University of Chicago, where he studied under Milton Friedman, the famed libertarian economist – an experience that profoundly influenced his thinking about economics and other aspects of society for the rest of his life.

Professor Borts spent 63 years at Brown University, where he joined the Department of Economics in 1950 at 23. During his long and distinguished career, he served as chairman of the Department of Economics at Brown and led its rise to prominence as one of the leading departments of economic teaching and research. He was also the managing editor of one of the economics profession’s pre-eminent journals, the American Economic Review, for more than 10 years.

His career gave him the opportunity for travel, research and other learning as a visiting professor/research fellow at Hokkaido University, the London School of Economics and the National Bureau of Economic Research. He retired last year as the George S. and Nancy B. Parker Professor Emeritus of Economics.

Professor Borts was an expert in international finance, industrial organization, regulation and transportation. His legacy as an economist includes not only his books and dozens of scholarly papers, but the many lives he touched as a colleague, teacher, friend and adviser. Over more than six decades at Brown, George Borts had instructed and mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. He supervised dozens of senior theses and doctoral dissertations and until last year, he was teaching undergraduate courses on international finance and on the welfare state in America, as well as leading several independent studies on a variety of topics.

His intellectual curiosity and professional interests allowed him to analyze complicated issues without pre-judgment. He led discussions about political, economic and social issues in ways that were clear and engaging for undergraduate seminars and senior colleagues alike. Generations of Brown students, economics majors and non-majors alike, discovered the intellectual creativity of economics through his classes.

His interest in promoting excellence in education was also demonstrated by his leadership of Brown’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter for many years.

He gave frequent testimony before U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies and commissions and served on many boards, including those of the Rhode Island School of Design, Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business, Rhode Island Blue Shield, Junior Achievement of Rhode Island and Temple Beth-El in Providence. And he advised political candidates of both parties on economic and tax policy and provided commentaries for The Providence Journal. In 1990-91 he was the editor of the Brown World Business Advisory.

The managing editor of that publication, who became The Providence Journal’s editorial-page editor, Robert Whitcomb, called Professor Borts a “joy to work with’’ over the two decades of their occasional projects together. “He combined intellectual rigor with great humor and congeniality, including when we didn’t agree on a specific issue. I particularly enjoyed his often amusing application of the law of unintended consequences to many societal situations at our numerous pleasant meals together.’’

Although he was a tireless advocate of the free market, he viewed political issues through an economic lens that was fair and open-minded. He valued greatly his relationships with both Keynesian and Monetarist economists. His closest personal relationships were with such prominent advocates of alternative points of view as Hyman Minsky, Phillip Taft, and Jerome Stein. Further evidence of this non-ideological approach was his pronounced belief in the need for immigration reform.

He is survived by Dolly, his wife of 65 years, three sons, three grandchildren and many friends and admirers around America and beyond.

More private seizures of public roads


Much of Providence was paralyzed today by one of those promotions for a rich company that cities and towns get suckered into. Today's collection of races, called "Cox Providence Rhode Races'' after the media company, closes streets, hurts many local businesses and gets in the way of rescue vehicles so that a lot of people (presumably a lot of Cox "volunteers'') can run, or, more commonly, barely walk (because they're so out of shape) along many Providence streets.

Much of the city grinds to a halt in the process, with big macro-economic losses.

Like the giving away of public streets to rich private universities, which Providence has famously done, it's more erosion of the idea that public space is for the public, not for private interests, including corporate promotion.