From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com
Reading about the “Winter Market’’ on Boston’s often reviled City Hall Plaza last year got me thinking that a similar place for vendors (including of wine and beer) and such family-oriented activities as face-painting and clowns, and illuminated by holiday lights, might do well on Westminster Street, Kennedy Plaza or in Memorial Park, all in cozy downtown Providence, from a week or two before Thanksgiving through New Year’s.
Back in Boston, the City Hall Plaza event won’t happen this year because the windswept plaza is being renovated. However, the Boston Guardian reports that the city is looking into having a holiday season market and beer garden this year at glorious Copley Square, upon which many people from Greater Providence walk every day after alighting from the Back Bay Amtrak/MBTA station. It’s one of the world’s great public places, with the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church facing each other.
Advertising, according to the industry's supposed maxim, is most successful when it touts a product's weakest aspect. If the maxim is accurate, Shawn Wooden's new television commercial makes him a cinch to become Connecticut's next state treasurer.
The commercial depicts Wooden, former president of the Hartford City Council, as the exemplar of financial propriety and efficiency but in a family setting. "I'm a bit of a penny pincher," Wooden says as he turns off a light left on and shuts a faucet left running by his sons. Then he squeezes the dregs from a toothpaste tube.
It's cute but it doesn't match the most notable part of Wooden's record in office -- his advocacy four years ago of Hartford's construction of a minor-league baseball stadium with which the city would steal the team of another struggling city, New Britain, even as Hartford itself was nearly bankrupt.
Of course this being Hartford, the construction of the stadium was botched, its completion was delayed a year, lawsuits resulted, and the expense, originally calculated at $50 million, got close to $80 million and was added to the city's huge bonded debt of $550 million. This year that debt was assumed by state government, so now Hartford isn't paying for the stadium at all, nor for anything else for which it borrowed money. The rest of Connecticut is paying.
That is Wooden's idea of being a "penny pincher" -- making the city so insolvent that state government would be compelled to rescue it from its chronic corruption and incompetence.
Wooden will be rescued with a cushy state job. But who will rescue the state?
OUTLAW THOSE PENSIONS: The candidates for governor agree that underfunding of the state employee and teacher pension plans is a big part of state government's financial disaster, but the candidates have not proposed any solution. They seem to think that the state employee and teacher unions will negotiate the benefits down.
That's not likely. So Connecticut needs proposals on the record in the campaign.
Indeed, state employees and teachers should be required to contribute much more to their pensions, and defined-benefit pensions should be outlawed for future government employees and replaced with 401(k) plans like those most taxpayers make do with.
This is not because the state's defined-benefit pensions are too generous, though some are. Nor is it because state and municipal employees are less productive than private-sector employees. (They are just like everybody else.)
Instead it is because Connecticut's elected officials always will lack the integrity to ensure that pension accounts are properly funded over the long term. That is, eventually elected officials will always yield to the temptation to divert pension fund contributions to undertakings that offer more immediate political rewards, and because the public itself lacks the civic virtue to hold elected officials accountable for pension underfunding.
WHAT ABOUT THE WAR?: Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate from Connecticut have little to say and less money to say it with and so are being ignored as sure losers.
They don't seem to have noticed that the stupid and futile imperial war in Afghanistan has entered its 18th year and that all members of the state's delegation, all Democrats, support it.
A Republican who pledged to vote against appropriations for the war might get noticed without having to spend a lot of money.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.
The federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up in nearly 10 years. Yet with a stroke of his pen, Jeff Bezos of Amazon raised the wages of hundreds of thousands of the company’s lowest paid workers.
In an age of extreme income inequality, this is leap in the right direction. It’s also a stark reminder of how far we as a nation are from caring for our most vulnerable people.
Consider the story of Vanessa Solivan, an East Trenton mother of three struggling in and out of homelessness. Vanessa is “working homeless,” an increasingly common phenomenon as the gap between wages and cost of living grows wider.
In the richest country in the world, millions of families shouldn’t have to struggle every day to get by while wealth concentrates into fewer and fewer hands at the top.
Workers’ fates shouldn’t be at the whims of billionaire CEOs — that’s why the minimum wage was introduced in the first place. Yet today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 is less than the cost of living of every major city in the country.
Vanessa shared her story with Matthew Desmond in a recent New York Times feature story titled, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not.” Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, and a Princeton sociologist, shows that working is no longer an antidote to poverty.
Vanessa holds down a job as a home health care aid for 20-30 hours a week while juggling her parenting and childcare duties, and also managing her own health. For her efforts, Vanessa earns about $1,200 in a good month. Last year she made just $10,446.81.
Desmond relays Vanessa’s constant struggle to feed, clothe, and house her family, navigating the byzantine patchwork of public programs designed to help her, but not too much.
Despite tax credits that increased her income by $5,000, she remained well below the poverty line. And when did find herself with a little more money than usual, like when her daughter qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance, other cuts were often made — in that case her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds were slashed.
Vanessa’s story is far from unique. The average income for the bottom half of wage earners is just $16,000, according to economist Thomas Piketty.
Despite major increases in productivity, the buying power of average hourly wages hasn’t gone up in four decades. Meanwhile, rents continue ticking upward, and more Americans join the ranks of the “working homeless.”
Given such poverty, one might logically assume the United States is poor. Quite the contrary. If we split the nation’s combined wealth equally among households, the country has enough money for every family to have nearly $800,000.
So where’s all that money?
Consider Bezos, the founder of Amazon. He’s the wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth around $165 billion. For context, that means he has enough money to spend $20 every second, every day — for the next 261 years.
One way Bezos got so rich is that until recently, he paid his workers the lowest rate he could legally get away with. He left many to depend on public assistance programs for food, housing, and other essentials. So too did the Waltons of Wal-Mart, who also built their riches on the backs of low-wage workers.
If companies pay workers less than it costs those workers to live, it’s their billionaire owners who benefit the most from government subsidies. Why on earth would we subsidize billionaires in an age of extreme inequality?
The time is past due to end poverty. Dramatically raising the minimum wage is just one step. Also needed are a host of other interventions to help all of us live dignified lives.
As Desmond points out, it’s no longer enough to say any “Nobody who works should be poor.” Nobody in America should be poor, period.
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies.
There are no solutions to complex problems — except when the problem becomes so complex it must have a simple solution.
That is the paradox thrown up by global warming and the shattering report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report cries out for dramatic, simple remediation of the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every day by industrial society.
The complex solution is a case-by-case, country-by-country, industry-by-industry, polluter-by-polluter remediation: power plants, automobiles, trucks, trains, ships, aircraft and manufacturers.
The simple solution to this complex problem is to tax carbon emissions: a carbon tax. Make no mistake, it would be tough. Some industries would bear the brunt and their customers would carry the burden — initially a light burden growing to a heavier one.
The obvious place to start is with electric utilities. Those burning coal would get the heaviest penalty. Those burning natural gas — the fuel favored by its low price and abundance in the nation — some penalty, but not as heavy.
Nuclear, which is having a hard time in the marketplace at present, would be the big winner of the central station technologies, and solar and wind would continue to be favored.
When it comes to transportation and farming, the pain of carbon taxation rises. The automobile user has choices like a smaller car, an electric car or simply less driving. But heavy transportation, using diesel or kerosene, is where the pain will be felt: buses, trucks, tractors, trains, aircraft and ships. The burden here is direct and would push up prices to consumers quickly.
Jets are a particularly vexing problem. Although they represent about 3.5 percent of pollution, it is the altitude at which they operate (above 30,000 feet) that makes them particularly lethal greenhouse gas emitters.
A carbon tax must be introduced gradually but firmly so that technology and alternatives have a chance of coming to the rescue. Some things, like airline tickets, will just cost more before manufacturers improve engines and work on new propulsion. Farming will he hard hit, and farmers may have to get rebates.
When a carbon tax was proposed in the 1970s, it was defeated in Congress by a phalanx of industry groups led by the American Petroleum Institute and the National Coal Association, now part of the National Mining Congress. Its purpose then was to cut demand for fuel during the energy crisis, which was in full swing. Today these groups are less vocal on the subject as their members begin to entertain the idea of a tax.
Although Congress is still opposed to it — an anti-carbon tax resolution was overwhelmingly passed in the House in July — industry is coming around.
ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total have signed on, and several Republican lobbying groups outside of Congress are working with members of the House and Senate, including the new Americans for Tax Dividends. Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, an influential group of Republican graybeards and financiers, says they get a good hearing in private conversations with lawmakers.
The U.N. climate study with its awesome conclusions may have come too late to play a big role in the midterm elections. But, especially after hurricanes Florence and Michael, it will blow through the 116th Congress at gale force, the public demanding action.
The quick fix — rough-and-ready and punitive — may be the only quick fix: Tax carbon where it enters the atmosphere. History tells us the economy will adjust creatively.
On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is email@example.com.