'Love's austere and lonely offices'

 

"Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?" 

-- Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays''

 

Sociological lessons from public offices

Thewaiting room of the Providence Social Security office, which has been moved and spiffed up, provides some examples of a changing America. These include that many of the folks in the waiting room speak little or no English. (This is probably one of the changes that has distressed many Trump fans.)

For another, very few people these days bring anything to read to pass the time. Most folks just stare ahead or occasionally look at their cellphones. Catatonic America? Or do they just not feel well? Indeed, the clientele look remarkably unhealthy.

The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal is also sociologically fascinating. One is struck by the number of people who cannot pay even very small fines (say $60) in spite of the fact (or because?) they have big cars; the number of people driving with marijuana in their vehicles; the number of people whose car windows have such dark tinting that the judge orders them to remove it so that law-enforcement people canidentify the people within – and what they’re doing -- and how many confused people are fined after being videotaped passing  school buses parked on the wrong side of the street with their stop flags extended and lights flashing but no driver or children in sight.

It’s a  very good business: the videotape company (now an outfit called Student Guardian) gets 75 percent of the fine, the state 12.5 percent, and the city or town where the violation occurred 12.5 percent. Theeconomic impetus is to keep the flag extended and the lights flashing as much as possible. In any case, stay as far away as you can from school buses, for the kids’ sake and your wallet’s.

Some wags have suggested that the inside of the buses also be videotaped to prove that they are occupied but that would violate the privacy of the children.

You also, as you’d expect, see lots of speeding tickets in relatively wide-open parts of the state, such as Burrillville, but far more school-bus-passing offenses, driving without insurance, license and/or registration, marijuana possession, excessively tinted windows and so on in urban areas – for example, East Providence.

 

Josh Hoxie: Repealing the ACA another windfall for the rich

Via OtherWords.org

Great magicians are masters of diversion. They attract our attention with one hand while using the other to trick us into thinking a supernatural act is taking place.

But even the best street performers could learn a lesson from the folks in Congress who are trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

When we talk about repealing Obamacare, we almost never talk about the windfall payday it would bring to multi-millionaires and billionaires. In fact, this massive tax cut is the proverbial card hiding in the sleeve of lawmakers pushing repeal.

A new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows the 400 richest Americans, a group whose average annual income tops $300 million each, would get a combined annual tax cut of $2.8 billion if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

In other words, people who already have more money than they could spend in a dozen lifetimes would get a massive pile of cash.

Meanwhile, those who make less than $200,000 per year — also known as “the rest of us” — would see no benefit. That’s because the two taxes that funded the expansion in healthcare coverage included as part of Obamacare don’t extend to these moderate-income households.

And many of us would do worse.

In fact, about 7 million low-income people would actually see their taxes go up if the law’s repealed, since they’d lose insurance premium tax credits that were enacted as part of the bill.

So, to be perfectly clear on this point, repealing Obamacare equals payday for the wealthiest households and higher taxes for the poorest households — millions of whom would also lose their health coverage.

Remember the story of Robin Hood? It’s just like that, but backwards.

Poll after poll shows Americans have no idea how concentrated wealth inequality is today — it’s far worse than most suspect.

A report I co-authored last year looked at the 400 wealthiest individuals in the country. This group together owns more wealth than the entire GDP of India, a country with over a billion people.

The report also showed this great concentration of wealth splits largely, although not exclusively, along racial lines. The 100 wealthiest Americans, none of whom are black, today own more wealth than the entire African-American population combined.

Unsurprisingly, most of us would like to live in a much more egalitarian society. If we can’t swing it, economist and author Thomas Piketty warns, we’re heading towards a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power, where the children of today’s billionaires will dominate our economy and our government.

As we look back at the Obama legacy, we see a number of efforts aimed at beginning to bridge that massive wealth divide. From expanding opportunities for low-income children and families to asking the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share, progress has been made on this front in the past eight years.

The Affordable Care Act was one of these efforts, and it touched directly on issues of life and death.

Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of today’s illusionists: Repealing it will directly counteract this progress. It will further concentrate wealth into fewer hands and strip low-income families of what little resources they have.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Llewellyn King: Left should start trying to influence Trump, via television

Through the nation and across the world the liberals, the centrists, the traditionalists and the orthodox are in shock: Donald J. Trump will be America's 45th president and they don’t like that one bit, or like him at all.

I have some advice for those who are beating their breasts and crying, “The sky is falling!”: Get over it, and get to work.

Trump is the man. Those who fear his changes ought to start using the man’s own tool: leverage.

According to The Washington Post's Robert Costa, who covered Trump's presidential campaign, and interviewed him again last week, the president has no particular ideology. But he gets ideas from Steve Bannon, his senior counselor and chief White House strategist.

The forces opposed to Trump would do better to focus their fire on Bannon. Criticize him, even ridicule and revile him, but endeavor to get the message straight to Trump.

How can one direct invective at those around Trump, but speak to him directly?

The tool for reaching Trump is television.

Television is a medium associated with mass communication, but now it has a chance of being a medium of singular communication: the way to whisper in the president’s ear in plain sight.

Trump told Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press, that he gets his information from “the shows like yours.” Trump’s early Cabinet appointments show the veracity of this: What he knows, how he thinks and how he'll act is influenced by what he sees on television much more than by learned discourse in the press. Trump tweets because what he has to say fits in the written equivalent of a sound bite.

Trump is a creature of television, and it's a two-way street for him: He loves being on it and gets his information from it. That's why he appoints people who he's seen on television. He appointed Monica Crowley as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, but she has relinquished the post amid a plagiarism scandal. Reportedly he was considering Laura Ingraham for White House press secretary. Both are television chirpers.

If you want money to build a new nuclear reactor, more funding for the National Institutes of Health to do research on a certain disease, or if you want to change the fortunes of a small country, take your message to television.

This means the political communications machine needs retooling.

You cannot persuade Trump with dense arguments in journals of opinion. Instead, you must persuade him with easily grasped ideas that will make their way onto television -- especially onto the Sunday morning talk shows.

Fox has the edge with Trump, which makes the sale of some ideas more difficult. But he's open to a catchy concept; something that he can rework into a slogan of his own, while his administration incorporates it into policy.

The other route to Trump are his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Liberals should stop whining about their having a role in the White House. Let them have it. It’s a good thing – and an excellent thing for these times.

Even though they've been shielded by wealth from many of the realities of life, they can't be totally immune to what their generation thinks and says. They are in their middle thirties; Trump is 70. That's important. It wouldn't be so if they didn’t get a hearing from Trump. But he relies on them, uses them as sounding board. They could be of value in balancing what Trump hears from Bannon and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Only a child can say to a parent, a parent who dotes on that child, “You’re full of it.”

That’s what everyone needs to hear sometimes, and Trump especially. Bring them on!

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@gmail.com.

 

Time to join Atlantic Time

 

 

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal24.

Good news: The Massachusetts legislature is studying whether to have the state join Canada’s Maritime Provinces (and Puerto and the U.S, Virgin Islands) by ditching Eastern Time and joining Atlantic Time. Since New England is so far east, this would make a lot of sense. It would give us more afternoonsunlight in the late fall and winter and end the sleep deprivation caused by our move into Eastern Daylight Time in March. If New England’s dominant state makes the move, then the rest of the region, perhaps excepting Connecticut, or just its Fairfield County, which operates almost as part of New York, would have to follow suit.

Atlantic Time matches the time that New Englanders already use in the summer;  adopting it would simply mean that in the fall, we wouldn’t have to fall back but rather we’dkeep the clock an hour forward all year.

The change would, based on current school hours, result in kids going to school when it’s still dark some of the year.  So open school an hour later than now. You’d probably get more alert students: Studies have suggested that the sleeping cycles of young people, especially teens, clash with the typical 7:20-8 a.m. openings of public schools.

We’re in the wrong time zone. Consider that Boston lies so far east in the Eastern Time Zone that during standard time, Boston’s earliest nightfall of the year – Dec. 7 --  is a mere 27 minutes later than in Anchorage, Alaska.

 

David Warsh: Should Trump get his own FBI director?

 

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 14 signaled what may become the first major battle of the Trump administration, when it called upon FBI Director James Comey to resign.

“[I]f the director has demonstrated anything in the last year, is that he’s lost thetrust of nearly everyone in Washington, along with every American who believes the FBI must maintain its reputation as a politically impartial federal agency.”)  If he doesn’t quit on their motion, the WSJ editorialists continued,

“Jeff Sessions should invite him for a meeting, after {Mr. Sessions} is confirmed as Attorney General, and ask him to resign. If Mr. Comey declines, Donald Trump should fire him in the best interests of the nation’s most important law enforcement agency.’’

In a season of bad ideas, the proposition that Donald Trump should have his own FBI director is the worst one yet.  It should be laughed off and then dismissed.

It won’t be, though, because Comey has become the focal point of dissatisfaction by leaders of both parties and pundits left and right. Democrats blame him for swinging the election by notifying Congress that a small cache of previously unexamined Hillary Clinton e-mails had turned up. Republicans blame him for absolving Clinton of criminal conduct in the private email server.

Last week Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz  announced he would undertake a wide-ranging review of FBI actions before the election.  Comey welcomed the investigation, and the rest of us should, too. It will take a few months to complete.  Horowitz mentioned six areas of specific concern.

The first instance was Comey’s decision last July to call a press conference to announce the results of a year-long investigation requested by Congressional Republicans. He  excoriated Hillary Clinton for “extremely careless” conduct in her use of a private server for State Department business but added that that carelessness didn’t amount to criminal conduct.

The second occasion came in October, ten days before the election, when Comey wrote to the same Congressional leaders to say that a small trove of unexamined Clinton e-mails had been located in an unrelated investigation. Three days before the election, he announced that they had been found to contain nothing new.

The third topic that the Inspector General promised to investigate has to do with the circumstances that led Comey to announce the discovery of the new e-mails.

 

According to stories by Devlin Barrett, of the WSJ. Comey was dealing with furious dissent over the Clinton investigation in at least four FBI field offices – New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Little Rock – offices in which agents had extended their investigation to practices of the Clinton Foundation. Candidate Trump himself surmised as much, telling a Colorado crowd in late October, “I’ll bet you without any knowledge there was a revolt in the FBI.”

A fourth matter concerns whether FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case, either before or after his wife, a candidate for the Virginia Senate, accepted a large donation from a prominent Clinton backer, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

A fifth involved the use of an FBI Twitter account to publicize the release, days before the election, of 129 pages of internal documents under terms of a Freedom of Information Act request – material pertaining to Bill Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich nearly 16 years before.

A sixth pertained to some potentially inappropriate contact between Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Peter Kadzik and John Podesta,  Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair.  WikiLeaks hacks disclosed a series of e-mails between the two;  Kadzik had previously been Podesta’s attorney.

The office of the Justice Department Inspector General, created in 1989, celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary a couple of years ago.  Horowitz, a longtime Justice Department and Sentencing Commission administrator, worked briefly for Comey twenty-five years ago, as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. The fourth attorney to serve as IG, he was sworn in on April 16, 2012.

The irony, as recounted here inOctober, is that Comey is famously perpendicular to the political special interests that routinely test any FBI director. No doubt that the courses that Comey chose in July and October were irregular; in each case he was dealing with an irregular situation – a congressional attempt to stampede the bureau in the summer, the prospect of open revolt among its rank-in-file two weeks before the election. To have explained the matter more fully would have almost certainly made things worse; to have done nothing would have risked mutiny, a disaster.

The FBI, the nation’s top law-enforcement agency, is deeply divided along partisan lines. Some significant faction still want to send Hillary Clinton to prison. Agents have been communicating indirectly with advisers to the president-elect and to the press. Strong and principled management at the top is required. Democrats and sensible Republicans should sit back and wait for the Inspector General’s account.

David Warsh, a longtime financial journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

 

New England's shoe-business redux

In the B.F. Spinney & Co. shoe factory in Lynn, Mass., in 1872.

In the B.F. Spinney & Co. shoe factory in Lynn, Mass., in 1872.

 

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal24.com:

From the late 19th to the middle of the 20th Century, Massachusetts was often called “The Shoe Capital of the World’’ because of its many shoe factories, most notably in Brockton but also in towns north of Boston, particularly Lynn.  Most of the factories were closed as the companies either went out of business or moved their operations south in search of cheap labor, aided by new industrial air-conditioning. Same thing with the textile companies.

But the Bay State and New England in general have been pretty good at reinventing themselves. Even in shoes.  Nowadays footwear companies are drawn to (or stay in) Greater Boston because of the increasingly rich design, marketing, manufacturing technology (such as robotics) and other expertise available there. Consider the following companies with headquarters operations in the area: New Balance, Puma, Alden of New England, Wolverine, Clarks, Earth Brands, Reebok, Vibram, Rockport and Converse.

A particularly evocative development is the recent move by British-owned Clarks Americas into the former Polaroid factory in Waltham. In its glory days in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Polaroid, the instant camera and film company, was considered a leader among the Massachusetts technology companies that were spouting up along the recently built Route 128. The company was called a “juggernaut of innovation.’’  (There’s been a minor revival lately of using Polaroid cameras. Like vinyl records?)

A big change since the ‘60s is that many tech companies now prefer to be in Boston and Cambridge because the executives, and their younger workers, find them more stimulating than the suburbs. The most dramatic recent example, of course, is General Electric deciding to leave its  boring Fairfield, Conn., corporate campus and move to Boston’s trendy waterfront.

Gary Champion, president of Clarks Americas,  succinctly explained to The Boston Globe the lure of Greater Boston:

“The skill is what brings us here, even still.’’

Having spent summers in high school working for a trucking company in Boston (on the then grubby and arson-rich waterfront) much  of whose business was servicing the shoe and related business, I find  this comforting.

Massachusetts’s jobless rate in December was 2.9 percent and the state’s average wages are among the highest in the nation. Massachusetts employers need more skilled workers to staff the many well-paying and sophisticated jobs available in the Bay State. That its public schools are probably the best in America, and that the state hosts world famous colleges and universities, helps to churn out great workers. But so successful are so many Massachusetts companies that they’re desperate for more highly skilled workers. In a sense, a nice problem to have!

 

David C. Pate, M.D.: America's healthcare-payment system must be transformed

At this stressed moment in Washington, this is as good a description of American healthcare "system'' challenges as I've read in a while. 

-- Robert Whitcomb

David C. Pate, M.D., a physician and lawyer who has been president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, based in Boise, Idaho, since 2009, spoke Dec. 14 as part of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Speaker Series. These remarks are edited for length and clarity from a transcript prepared by the chamber’s public-relations director, Caroline Merritt.

There’s a lot of discussion about healthcare, a lot of fear about what’s going to be happening with healthcare from a national level. I think there are answers — answers that healthcare providers are best prepared to implement, not Washington.

For the seven years that I’ve been here, we have been working at St. Luke’s, building the capabilities and competencies necessary to manage healthcare in a very different world than has existed.

Six months after I got here, the Affordable Care Act was enacted. We at St. Luke’s did not support the Affordable Care Act. Not because it doesn’t have a lot of really good features. It does. The discussion at the time was that if we add tens of millions of people to the newly insured in what was at the time, and still is, a broken healthcare delivery system, we’re going to end up saving money. We did not believe that. We have seen with the Affordable Care Act the continued growth and cost in healthcare. Something different has to happen.

Now the discussion is, “Let’s repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.” I think it’s going to miss the mark as well. In both cases, Republicans and Democrats are coming up with the right answers to the wrong question.

Get a service, pay a bill

Most experts in healthcare would agree that the single biggest problem is our reimbursement model. It’s what’s called fee-for-service. You go to the doctor, you get a bill. You get a lab test, you get a bill. You go to the hospital, you get a bill.

It leads to a fragmented healthcare-delivery system. Everything is being paid by this unit-of-service or episode-of-care. Regardless of whether it helped you or not. Regardless of whether it provided value. Regardless of whether there was a less costly alternative.

An ideal reimbursement system ought to align the incentives of the payment with what we say are the important objectives that we want. You go places and you’re always having to repeat the same things because nobody seems to have all the information. You get bills from all the different ones.

It’s estimated that, at minimum, 30 percent of all healthcare spending in the United States goes to low-value or no-value services. So we are spending money on things that don’t help people. With fee-for-service, we pay for a lot of duplication.

One of the consequences is that we have these consistently rising premiums, and they have outpaced the growth in incomes. In Idaho this is particularly serious, because premiums as a percentage of average income [are] about 17 percent, and even the federal government with the Affordable Care Act said affordable is less than 9.5 percent.

High-deductible health plans don’t help

What has been a response is, “Let’s create really high-deductible health plans that make the patients have skin in the game and make them a little bit resistant to buy these services unless they really need them.”

Most of us can remember the day when we thought a high deductible was a thousand dollars for an individual. These high-deductible plans now are in the neighborhood of up to $6,000 for an individual, $12,000 for a family. Nearly half of Idahoans don’t have enough liquid assets to be able to pay the deductible.

So insurance is increasingly become more like a catastrophic health plan, not something that you can really use. People do avoid getting care, but they avoid getting the care they need as well as the care that you’d like to discourage. This isn’t working.

Now imagine a new world that I’ll call pay-for-value. Imagine that I’m getting paid $500 a month for people to provide all of their healthcare, and that’s all I’m getting,

The majority of the population [accounts for] a very small amount of the healthcare spending – 4 percent. In fee-for-service, Saint Al’s {Boise-based St. Alphonsus Health System} and St. Luke’s would go broke. They just don’t use many services.

Today, in fee-for-service, what I want to know when I come to work is: Are all our hospital beds full? Are our emergency departments full? Are women lined up down the hallway to give birth? Because this is how we get paid.

When [a patient is] ready to be discharged, we’re going to wheel [her] out in a wheelchair to the front sidewalk, and her family members are going to pull up, and we’re going to put her in the car and close the door. We’re done. Now, if anything else happens to her, that’s fine, come on back. We’d be glad to have you, and we’ll do it again. Re-admissions aren’t really a problem for us under fee-for-service. It’s just an opportunity to make more money.

New financial incentives for better care

Think about pay-for-value. I’m getting $500 per month. Is there any hospitalization that you can have for under $500 that you can think of? No.

Now don’t misunderstand me. We’re still going to have hospitalizations, even under pay-for-value. But we’re looking at them differently: Could we have prevented this?

Under pay-for-value, complications are very expensive, and now they’re our expense, because we’re just getting that $500. And we’re looking at two things. How can we give the right care 100 percent of the time? And how can we get to zero complications?

If you have a knee or a hip replacement, one of the dangers is that the prosthesis, the artificial part of it, can get infected. We figured that if someone got an infection from their knee or hip surgery, it added about $120,000 to the cost. That’s a lot of $500 premiums to pay for that complication. So what we’ve been doing is trying to figuring out how do we get to zero complications.

With hip and knee infections — I’m going to oversimplify — there are two ways you can get infected. One is: There can be bacteria on the skin that we don’t get off, so in the operation we put the bacteria in it. But today, the bigger problem is there’s particulate material in the air. We’ve got your wound open. That particulate matter can settle in your wound.

So we partnered with Micron and Boise State University to come into our operating rooms and to study about these particulate counts. Who knew there were such things as air engineers, but there are, and Boise State has one. And what we found is that every time the OR door opened, it stirred up the particulate count in the room. Just by us making sure everything is needed is in the room, and putting in new procedures about minimizing traffic through the OR, we have cut what was already a very good infection rate in half. These are the kind of things that you have got to do in this new world.

A very small percentage of the population accounts for a lot of the healthcare spending. [A man] has diabetes and heart failure and chronic kidney disease, and he’s a couch potato and he’s not very active. He is just a mess. People in [his] category, on average, are going to have six to eight doctors. In fee-for-service, they’re not talking to each other.

‘We’re driving this forward

In pay-for-value, that’s where we can reduce costs and make healthcare more affordable. Instead of concentrating all of my health systems’ resources on all of them, I’m going to focus my resources on this group, because there is so much we can do just by paying those doctors differently. They’re not just getting paid for the office visit. They are now paid to actually coordinate his care. You use other resources like care managers to help coordinate that care.

Starting Jan. 1,  25 percent of our revenue will be in this new model. We expect that sometime in 2018, it actually may be 50 percent. So we’re driving this transformation forward.

Now, the Boise/Meridian hospitals are five-star hospitals designated by CMS [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], the only one like that in the state of Idaho — in fact, in the surrounding six states. And our health system has been named, and that’s all of the hospitals, a top 15 health system for three years in a row. We’re showing that this can be done. We’re doing it.

The other piece is: Drive it at the lowest possible cost. That’s what we’ve got to deliver on.

We’re not counting on Washington to figure out how to fix healthcare.

Q: You’re talking about the transformation, but I’m wondering how that’s going to happen. You partner with SelectHealth, right? To deliver this model? Are you going to be able to work with the other insurance companies to make this happen? Or maybe it’s something bigger, like CMS changing from fee-for-service to pay-for-value. How are you going to get from 50 to 100 percent?

A: This is a great question, because the only way we can do it is if the payment system is transformed as well. It’s not going to work for us to transform the clinical model if the business model doesn’t change with it.

We have a great partnership with SelectHealth. That is certainly accelerating our efforts. One reason we went to SelectHealth was there wasn’t a lot of appetite for this in the market with the insurers at the time many years ago. Now other payers are getting aligned with this same concept.

In defense of my insurance-company colleagues, let me tell you, it’s really hard to change your business model. What we’ve gone through with our board to convince them that we should do this, and for them to understand you’re going to take 25 percent of our revenue and put it at financial risk? It’s a big step. And it’s hard for any business to transform their business when they’re doing well.

I think there’s going to be a competitive advantage to who can figure this out first. What I can do is: With the insurance companies that want to partner with us, we can now get by on a lower premium. So you can actually lower your premium, and we know that is what will shift market share.

As far as the federal government:

The Obama administration has been all in favor of this, and they would applaud what we are doing.

I am concerned with the new pick for secretary of HHS [President-elect Trump has chosen Rep. Tom Price,  M.D., a Georgia Republican congressman] because I’m not convinced based on what I’ve read about him that he believes in this. He’s a physician that came from the fee-for-service world and did well in that world.

I think the question is: How difficult is the new administration going to make it for us to do this? But I hope not.

This story appears in the December 21, 2016-January 17, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.  To get to the magazine, hit this link.

 

 

 

Exit Kaspersky

If you use  Kaspersky, the Moscow-based information-security company whose services are used by many Americans, get out of it ASAP.

Installing Kaspersky on your computer opens yourself up even more than you're already exposed to hacking by Russians. Eugene Kaspersky, the company’s major domo, is very close to the Kremlin and does its bidding. Indeed, get anything Russian out of your computer ASAP! 

January thaw

 

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!

Bring the singer, bring the nester;

Give the buried flower a dream;

Make the settled snow-bank steam;

Find the brown beneath the white;

        5

But whate’er you do to-night,

Bathe my window, make it flow,

Melt it as the ices go;

Melt the glass and leave the sticks

Like a hermit’s crucifix;

        10

Burst into my narrow stall;

Swing the picture on the wall;

Run the rattling pages o’er;

Scatter poems on the floor;

Turn the poet out of door.

-- Robert Frost, "To the Thawing Wind''

 

Upcoming foreign-relations dinners

To members and friends of the  Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (thepcfr.org; pcfremail@gmail.com).

There might be a couple of additions to this list over the next few weeks.

To members and friends of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (pcfremail@gmail.com; thepcfr.org)

Our next speaker comes on Thursday, Feb. 23, with Carl Maccario, an expert on international security issues involving terrorists and other bad actors. He's an internationally known specialist in behavior recognition, evaluating truthfulness and detecting deception, and nonverbal communication.

 

He has provided behavior recognition training to virtually every part of The Department of Homeland Security and as well as to various branches of the Department of Defense entities and to foreign nations.

 

He’ll have some exciting visuals to show us.

 

Dr. Stephen Coen, director of the Mystic Aquarium, will speak on the condition of the oceans, Wednesday, March 8.

 

Brazilian political economistand commentator Evodio Kaltenecker willspeak on Thursday, March 16, about the crises facing that huge nation.

On  Wednesday, April 5, famed French journalist, novelist and broadcaster Jean Lesieur will speak on the global  order being turned upside down by the advances of dictators, the retreat of democracies and the presidency of Donald Trump, not tomention the existential crisis of the European Union.

 

Dr. Rand Stoneburner,  M.D., the international epidemiologist, willspeak on Wednesday April 19, about world public health challenges, including Zika.


James E. Griffin, an expert on ocean fishing and other aspects of the global food sector, will speak to us on Wednesday, May 17.
 
Joining us on Wednesday, June 14, will be Laura Freid, CEO of the Silk Road Project,  founded and chaired by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998, promoting collaboration among artists and institutions and studying the ebb and flow of ideas across nations and time. The project was first inspired by the cultural traditions of the historical Silk Road.
 

 

The weight of history in 'Manchester-by-the-Sea'

The Old Burial Ground in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. (Photo by John Phelan)

The Old Burial Ground in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. (Photo by John Phelan)

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary’’ in GoLocal24.com

Some readers may have seen the recently released movie Manchester-by-the-Sea, a devastating family tragedy, but with comic moments, too, and all suffused with a haunting New England atmosphere. I have seen few movies that present a sharper view of the often bleak beauty of New England’s coast and towns or of the anxieties and occasional joys of America’s lower-middle class, New England sub-species.

The film is mostly set in the eponymous Massachusetts town on Greater Boston’s North Shore. 

While the official name is the same as in the movie, when I was growing up in Cohasset, across Massachusetts Bay from the town, we only called it “Manchester.’’ I mostly remember the capacious gray-shingled summer places along the town’s rocky headlands and the big Federal Style and Greek Revival houses inland a bit. \

Many of the grandest places in Greater Boston are on the North Shore. That’s where a lot of Boston Brahmins repaired to in the summer; some moved there year-round after they winterized their summer places (when they weren’t in Aiken, S.C., Palm Beach, etc., in the winter). Perhaps because the North Shore ports of Salem and Newburyport had many of the China Trade types who became Boston’s aristocracy, it denizens tended to look down on the South Shore, although Cohasset and Duxbury had/have certain old-money pretensions.  So there were social links between the two shores, such as annual sailsbetween the Cohasset and Manchester Yacht Clubs. But someone from Cohasset approaching the shore of Manchester quickly knows he/she is entering more-monied waters than those back home .

The South Shore’s mostly sandy and shallow harbors, as opposed to the deeper rock-rimmed ones north of Boston, made  them unattractive for ocean-going ships in the China Trade.  Instead, the local big money often came from the shoe business and such things as rope-making. Not as romantic as trading with China!

 

Manchester has economically struggling people too, and the movie is mostly about them. Like many, perhaps most  Americans now, they are downwardly mobile. Too many of them medicate their anxieties, which can move into despair, with booze, opiates and cocaine.

 

Thoreau wrote that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’’. The characters in Manchester-by-the Sea are not always quiet but they are usually stoical in their suffering from their own mistakes and others’ outrages inflicted on them. But they can still summon up some dark  comedy and savor the absurd.

As the movie’s characters walk or drive through Manchester and neighboring towns, you get a sense of the weight of the region’s long history and of the cheeriness of its sunny days alternating with the gloom of its cold, gray and mean winter days darkened by proximity to a hostile ocean. Toward the end of the movie, you even get a sense of the uplift from winter finally succumbing to spring, when the ground has thawed out enough to permit the burial of one of the movie’s characters.

The movie obliquely recalls the regional history that pressed in on Nathaniel Hawthorne (from Salem) in The House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter and William Faulkner’s line “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  New England and the South have a heavy thing on common: the weight of the most complicated histories of any American region except, perhaps, New York City.

One thinks of Faulkner’s  novel Absalom, Absalom!  in which the Harvard roommate of the Mississippian Quentin Compson says: : “Tell about the South. What's it like there? What do they do there? Why do they live there? Why do they live at all?"  You might ask the same question in mid-winter of New Englanders.

In Manchester-by-the Sea, the pertinent past is mostly in the lifetime of the main characters but you can feel the pressure of earlier time, too. And the film might remind us that most of those we encounter have potent psychic pain we know nothing about. If we did, we might pay attention to the old line: “To understand all is to forgive all,’’ though empathy can sometimes be over-rated.

 

Llewellyn King: The causes of nearly incurable 'Potomac Fever'

Looking toward the Potomac and Washington, D.C., with the Pentagon in the foreground.

Looking toward the Potomac and Washington, D.C., with the Pentagon in the foreground.

You are part of the new administration, or want to be part of the administration, or your company thinks it will gain favor if it moves its headquarters to Washington. One way or another, a lot of people are on the move to the nation's capital.

It is part of the Washington mystique that more come than go. Once you get in the Washington whirlpool, you don’t simply swim back to where you came from.

Members of the diplomatic corps yearn to come back to Washington. And members of the Washington press corps seldom leave Washington, although they may change employers.

Explaining the power that Washington exerts over its migrants isn’t easy, but it is there. Part of it, as Martin Walker, who covered Washington for Britain’s Guardian, told me when I met him in Brussels, where he had been sent by the newspaper, that he longed to get back to Washington – and he did, later, with UPI. “I like living somewhere where the head of government can send in a battle fleet,” he explained.

Journalists love Washington because it is one-stop shopping. There are innumerable stories and many places of employment, from the multifaceted world of trade journalism to the throes of political journalism.

Others, who don’t cover the White House or write for a major international newspaper, are also smitten. Maybe, I should say infected because an unnatural attraction to our nation’s capital is more often referred to as “Potomac Fever.”

There is no therapy for the malady, or known cure. People say, “I love Washington” and they mean it. Writers say, “I love writing.” But author Susan Seliger told me it means, “I love having finished writing.”

A common diagnosis of Washington’s peculiar sickness is that it is about power. But most people in Washington have precious little power and do ordinary jobs. It could be argued that, for the most part, investment banks on Wall Street or software shops in Silicon Valley have more power.

The president has real power, but even he is restrained, as President-elect Donald Trump is about to learn. Most power in Washington is derivative: Your wife’s best friend is married to the chairman of an influential Senate committee. Letting this be known gives you a sense of power.

One man I knew for years impressed people with his “White House contact.” He let it be known that he was “well-connected at the White House.” Beyond bragging, it did him no good.

Access is the currency most sought after. It, too, is dubious. If you have a telephone or an e-mail account, well, you have access. People in Washington get back to you, just in case you’re important.

Lobbyists work on access, raising money, providing tickets to sports events, and ingratiating themselves with members of Congress and their staffs.

This isn’t as hard as it seems. Members of Congress enjoy the attention which multiplies the sense that they are important, therefore, powerful.

Washington schools are important. As Frederic Reamer, professor at Rhode Island College and an expert on prisons, told me in a television interview: “Washington has the best and worst schools in the country.”

The best schools are the private ones -- Sidwell Friends and St. Albans stand out – and they are part of the power structure in Washington. Presidents, members of Congress, diplomats and other power people send their children to these schools. School functions are where the elite meet. It’s heady, it's Washington. The better suburban schools are also part of the game.

The downside of Washington is that it gets more expensive daily, particularly housing. Affordable housing is available in less-savory areas of the city or in the suburbs that spread out 40 miles into neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Washington traffic is second only to Los Angeles. If you have close friends, better live close to them because they won’t be dropping in on a whim.

The spring and fall are beautiful, but summer hot humid and hellish. When it snows, everything shuts down. Enjoy!

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle,  on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@gmail.com

 

Don Pesci: Progressivism is the opposite of thoughtful restraint

“The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections, none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.... [and Lastly] They are so grateful!!”

-- Benjamin Franklin in a letter toa friend in 1745

It probably is not true that older wives are by nature more grateful than, say, Melania Trump, soon to be the nation’s  First Lady. But, true or not, Franklin’s whiplash wit helps one to understand why the American ambassador, who lived in France for nine years, was so joyously received in French salons.

The Republican Party in Connecticut has for a long while been the old wife whom voters do not wish to marry. Registered Democrats in the state still outnumber Republicans by a ratio of two to one, and Democrats are outnumbered by party averse Independents, who, hopping from bed to bed, apparently do not believe in political marriages. This may be changing. Republicans will be very grateful if it does.

The change, if any, will be brought about in part by the mistreatment suffered by voters at the hands of their contractual spouse, the Democratic Party. Gov.  Dannel Malloy’s fling with Connecticut voters certainly changed radically after Mr. Malloy’s first honeymoon campaign was over.  Economically, everyone in the state but for those receiving tax payouts is poorer following the largest and second largest tax increases in state history. But the radical changes among Connecticut’s cutting edge progressives may best be appreciated when viewing social rather than economic issues.

The operative economic principle of progressivism is that laisse faire government is inherently unjust for reasons stated by Woodrow Wilson, a president who is viewed as marking an historical line of division between progressive government and the generally accepted pre-Wilson ideal that government governs best which governs least, a sentiment credited variously to Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine and Henry David Thoreau.

Wilson’s view on the prerogatives of the state was, well… different. Prior to the advent of the Wilson presidency, said Wilson, “the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little governing as possible.” However, this arrangement, Wilson felt, leaves defenseless citizens at the mercy of predatory corporations. Limits on government should be expanded, Wilson thought, so that the “sphere of the state may reach as far as the nature and needs of man and of men reach, including intellectual and aesthetic wants of the individual, and the religious and moral nature of its citizens."

Government overreach under both outgoing President Obama and Governor Malloy is proof, if any were needed, that a government without limits that does everything will do everything poorly.

Is there any area of life into which the state may not intrude in order to redress perceived injustices? Apparently not, according to the modern progressive. Mr. Wilson, who had been a Princeton professor and the university’s president before becoming New Jersey governor and then president, had an aversion to Big Business; but the modern progressive has an aversion to anyone seeking to escape molestation by an omnipresent and omniscient state.

No red line may be drawn between a citizen and his solicitous state, which is why we are now debating whether it is proper for the state to order predatory businesses to allow men who want to be women to use women’s bathrooms. Progressives in Connecticut have protectively leapt aboard this new bandwagon, arguing that forbidding a transgender man-to-woman, or a man who fancies dressing up in women’s clothing, from bursting in upon women in public powder rooms is on a par with forbidding African Americans from being seated in public lunch counters and busses along with white folk. One can only wonder what the Rev.  Martin Luther King Jr. might have made of that proposition.

Connecticut has been for the past few years a vanguard progressive state. It provides sanctuary to illegal aliens, college educations to some of its convicted criminals, and its governor has proudly marched with union strikers, some craven few would say, to garner union votes during elections. Such was the case before Governor Malloy very recently detected retrograde conservative tendencies in his approach to governance. “Who is the most conservative governor that any of you have worked with in the last whatever period of time you’ve been here?” Mr. Malloy recently asked Connecticut’s media. The media, dumbfounded, could make no answer.

Mr. Malloy’s messaging is purposely confusing. Is his government fish or fowl, progressive or conservative? It cannot be both.

Mr. Malloy is quoted most recently in Politico to this effect in defense of sanctuary cities: “I am not a shy individual; I have opinions, and as long as people ask my opinion I will lend it.” No kidding.

And he continues, “There are these states that are progressive that have benefited from that progressiveness, that are going to be examples of restraint and voices of responsibility. I would urge right-thinking individuals who’ve benefited from the advances our society has made to not be quiet. We’re going to continue to do the things we can do, and the things we can afford to do. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on refugees. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on gay, lesbian, transgender rights. We’re certainly not going to give up on making sure our citizens have healthcare."

Sure, sure. Progressivism is the opposite of a doctrine of governmental restraint, and progressives in Mr. Malloy’s administration have been boisterously progressive, in word and deed. Connecticut is suffering from progressive overreach, the corrective for which is a large dose of conservatism or, as President Calvin Coolidge might have insisted, a return to economic and social traditional and normality. That is the message that was delivered by voters during the late lamented national elections. This unsatisfied longing for normalcy very well may deliver the political heights in Connecticut to Republicans in the near future. To be sure, Donald Trump, infested with some dangerous conservative tendencies, is no “silent Cal,” but neither is Mr. Malloy.

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