Robert Whitcomb: Forever and a day to build something

tortoise.jpg

Excerpted from Aug. 18 Digital Diary column in GoLocalProv.

Please, city, don’t hold this up too! MSI Holdings LLC wants a few waivers to build an 11-story retail/residential building on what is now a parking lot on Canal Street in downtown Providence, most notably a waiver that would let the owners exceed the official height limit for the neighborhood in the city’s zoning rules.

The Providence Business News also reports that “the applicant has requested waivers from the recess requirement, and ground floor and upper level transparency requirements for the portion of the building that faces a narrow alley, called Throop Street.’’ Few people would see that side.

The applicant  ought to get the waivers promptly. Having lots of parking lots downtown in place of buildings is deadly. They shout urban decay. Density, on the other hand, speaks of vitality and prosperity. Jam in those buildings!

Time and time again, excessively rigid zoning rules have prevented what would be perfectly respectable structures from going up in Providence, or has grossly delayed them. The parking lot that this building would cover is an eyesore. Let’s get as much bustle as we canfrom people and businesses in downtown Providence, an eminently walkable place.

Which gets me to how long it takes to get anything done in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation expects to  finally award a bid in October to build the long-delayed (for 10 years!) pedestrian bridge over the Providence  River, with completion expected by November 2018. It looks like this thing will cost about $20 million.

The bridge will link College Hill and Fox Point with downtown, creating various commercial and other synergies. It should become a kind of tourist site and popular meeting place. Let’s hope that a brilliant architect designs it. Friedrich St. Florian?

Of course, because of the necessary oversight of publicly funded projects, the zoning-ordinance labyrinth, constituency politics and the vagaries of the economy, public projects usually take much longer than private ones. Still, 10 years is far too long! Businesses and individuals take negative notice of places where minor but needed repairs, such as filling potholes, let alone big projects,  seem to take eons to happen. Such delays are particularly frustrating in a place as small as Rhode Island, where you might think it would be easier to get things done.

It’s a problem around America.

Common Good, run by my  friend Philip K. Howard, has a very useful and proscriptive report out called Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals  that among otherthings discusses the huge costs of delaying infrastructure permits.  To read the report, please hit this link. 

Robert Whitcomb is the overseer of New England Diary.

James P. Freeman: Charlie Baker's quiet reinvention of state government

 

As the national Republican Party self-immolates as a consequence of its traumatic homage to the incendiary and self-destructive Donald Trump, Massachusetts Republicans should seek solace in knowing that Gov. Charlie Baker is quieting reinventing state government and, in the process, creating a model of New Republicanism.

Baker – and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito – are governing in style and substance that is moderate, pragmatic and unpretentious (there are no hints at being a “compassionate conservative,” for instance) which, even in the firmly progressive commonwealth, is highly effective. It should be considered a new form of Republicanism and a model of success -- especially for the few national Republicans vocalizing an oath of fidelity to the party’s core values.

Even The Boston Globe has taken notice. In a front page story on Aug. 8, it noted that Baker has -- “without grandstanding for the media or waging partisan battles – successfully courted the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, declaring victory on many of the major issues he’s tackled in the past 19 months with rarely a word of opposition from longtime lawmakers.”

Citing “no bold agenda but with a potent combination of high-level government experience, a strong grasp of complicated public policies, and just plain charm,” Baker, remarkably, has emerged as “the dominant figure on Beacon Hill.”

Among his achievements: slowly (it took decades to reach this point; dozens of legislative sessions and eight governors since the1970s) repairing and reforming the troubled MBTA; addressing the opioid crisis (in March he signed into law limits on opioid prescriptions); increasing tax credits for low-income workers; creating fairness in the workplace with equal pay for comparable work; reducing the state workforce as a means of balancing the budget; and, just the other week, celebrating completion of a $1 billion economic development bill.

And the work continues…

Baker-Polito, a political synchronized diving team, are now plunging into the swampy green pool of state regulation in search of efficiency and efficacy, not accolades. As reported by The New Boston Post, their administration is “eliminating nearly 15 percent of Massachusetts state regulations and amending at least another 40 percent in a top-to-bottom overhaul aimed at making state government more efficient and business-friendly.” These are waters that the previous administration, under former Gov. Deval Patrick, never dared wading into, given the progressive proclivity that more and greater government regulation is better and best for its citizens.

When the governor launched this regulatory initiative, he laid out three options for all executive office departments to consider during this methodical promulgation process: either retain, amend or rescind regulations. Those deemed unnecessary and obstructive in making the commonwealth a “better place to live, work and grow a business,” would be amended or rescinded, according to Brendan Moss, Baker’s deputy communications director.

Thus far, 336 regulations are slated to be amended and 122 are to be rescinded, with hundreds more under the hot white spot light of review. As Moss further explains, “members of the administration met with municipalities, businesses, and individuals at over 100 listening sessions across the state and we look forward to finalizing this comprehensive review in the near future.”

Baker’s best act of 2016 is, actually, inaction. He rightly decided not to immerse himself into the presidential contest; he neither embraced Trump or attended the convention in Cleveland, thereby immunizing himself – unlike so many so-called “principled” Republicans -- from association with the embarrassing national ticket. Instead, he has quietly gone about the people’s business. According to veteran observers, reports The Globe, Baker “listens and wants to understand everyone’s views – and is willing to adjust his own.”

As a testament to Baker’s sensible reforms and keen political instincts, he is, for the second year in a row, the most popular governor in the country. For many this development would have been simply unimaginable just two years ago during the gubernatorial race. But for those listening in 2014 it was inevitable.

Two years ago, while at a campaign stop at The Pilot House in Sandwich, Mass., he spoke of the practical agenda he intended to implement, relying heavily on a theme of restoration and repair. As far as his latest projects -- reducing the saturation of codes, rules and regulations along with economic development – they are rooted in his pronouncements from 2014. Back then he said that Massachusetts “is a complicated place to do business” and that Bay Staters need “to think differently about economic development.” Baker is proof that one can be successful in linking campaigning with governing. A lesson lost on many Republicans today.   

With much work to do (such as state debt and pension reforms), one fact will, however, emerge by the end of the day on Nov. 8: Charlie Baker will be seen as the top of the presidential class of 2020. And perhaps more importantly, his brand of governing – and the heavy lifting of effecting sensible policymaking -- will be seen as a model for the national party and should be emulated by members of the national party to ensure that the Grand Old Party retains its grandeur.

As Labor Day 2016 approaches, Baker’s New Republicanism must be a novel concept to those Republicans still pledging allegiance (without a trace of buyer’s remorse) to its two national candidates, who are positioning themselves, ever so effortlessly and recklessly, for massive electoral losses.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. 

The Cape, distilled

"Chatham II (acrylic on canvas), by Brenda Horowitz, in her show at the Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown. She has a place in Truro, on Cape Cod,  where, the gallery says, she works on compositions "simplified to land, water, sky sometimes a house {to} explore the inherent character of the Cape landscape, where the quality of light reflected by the ocean intensifies the color of nature. The work in the current exhibition was created in plein air in the hills, dunes and marshland of Truro.....'

Llewellyn King: How McLaughlin blew up the political talk show world

Thirty-four years ago, a former Jesuit priest threw an incendiary device into the world of televised political talk shows. He was John McLaughlin, host of The McLaughlin Group, who has died at the age of 89.

Until McLaughlin exploded the scene, it was all rather sedate. The dominant programs were PBS’s Washington Week in Review and Agronsky & Company, hosted by veteran broadcaster Martin Agronsky.

In these programs, the host was magisterial and the guests were journalists who answered questions either about what they were covering or what they thought; and their answers were expected to conform to a level of decorum.  Agronsky & Company -- largely because of Agronsky’s own strong personality -- had a little more flash than Washington Week in Review,  but there was a level of earnestness about both programs.

Along came Providence-born McLaughlin, who was not so much a seeker-of-wisdom- and-truth as a man in pursuit of fun and something watchable. With The McLaughlin Group, a window was opened and fresh air gushed in. The conventions were trounced.

Shouting and loud dispute on television arrived, all skillfully goaded by McLaughlin.

The program became essential viewing not only for political junkies, but also for much of the nation. At one time, it was carried on nearly 400 PBS stations, although it originated on commercial television in Washington. It was sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute.

It was also commercially successful, so it was able to pay its contributors and to have a large staff -- a very large staff for a half-hour show. McLaughlin was not easy to work for, staffers who later worked with me said. Washington television circles are replete with stories of him sending staffers on personal errands and, in one case, ordering a woman to make toast for him.

All I can say is that in our very occasional meetings, he was very encouraging about my own television and radio talk show, White House Chronicle.

McLaughlin left nothing to chance: The effect had to be right. So shows were packaged, reworked and second and third takes were common. There was perfectionism in the riot.

He was the ringmaster, demanding terse answers, switching subjects and making declarative statements. After a “lightning round” of questions, he would opine, “The answer is.”

McLaughlin had the best opinion journalists of the time on his program, including Jack Germond, Robert Novak, Morton Kondracke, Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift and Michael Barone. There were falling outs with some of his stars: Novak is reported to have stormed off the set, and Germond also quit with harsh words.

But there were loyalists and people who loved McLaughlin. They include Clift and Buchanan, whose friendship with McLaughlin dated back to the Nixon White House where they had both worked.

In the past decade, the program fell victim to the “new journalism” it had created. As the cable networks grew, they adopted the aggressive approach to political discussion that McLaughlin had introduced, but often without the finesse or the self-deprecation, which was part of McLaughlin as a broadcaster and as a man.

He loved Dana Carvey's skewering of the program on Saturday Night Live. He would openly joke about a very prudish article of advice to girls about sex that he had written when he was in the priesthood.

McLaughlin, an extraordinary man with an extraordinary legacy, was an ordained Jesuit who left the priesthood and married twice. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Senate from Rhode Island, became a speechwriter for President Nixon, and editor and columnist for National Review and then, without a background in television, reinvented political talk shows.

If you are tired of journalists shooting off their mouths and shouting at each other 24/7, blame John McLaughlin. He would have loved you for it.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking2@gmail.com) is host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a longtime publisher, editor, columnist and international business consultant . This piece first ran on InsideSources.

William Morgan: State-sponsored kitsch

The new Rhode Island Driver [sic] License features I Am Sample, a veteran with unknown hair.

            The embarrassingly amateurish design of the new Rhode Island driver’s license once again raises the issue of who is responsible for the visual branding of the state I live in.

            So, you may say, it is just a daily-use piece of plastic, akin to a credit card, something you show to cash a check, buy booze, or hand over to the policeman when you've been caught in a speed trap. Like an auto tag, in its small but ubiquitous way the license can serve as an ambassador of the state. Sadly, this wee but official document says volumes about how we identify ourselves and about our self-confidence as a civic entity.

            What if the new driver 's license were your primary business card? Do you think that you would impress a lot of potential clients with your classy image?

What would happen, say, if you were wrongly arrested by the secret police in a banana republic somewhere and you flashed your Little Rhody license with its kiddy coloring-book graphics? Your captors might be dazzled, but more likely they'd laugh out loud.

            What about the guffaws that would come from notable graphic designers if the new license were entered in a contest to showcase the imaginative designs solutions emanating from the "Creative Capital" (as Providence’s branders call the city)? Instead of "Cooler and Warmer," how about "Cheaper and Uglier"?

            But most states have real shortcomings when it comes to designing their images.

One hesitates to ask how this unfortunate logo got approved.

And then, too, logos and branding that come out of the federal government are often substandard. The usual Hallmark Card-meets-Soviet Realism design approach is well demonstrated by the George W. Bush-era redesigned U.S. passport, with its grade school textbook-style illustrations.

 

A page from the overhauled U.S. passport, complete with the U.S.S. Constitution, a lighthouse, and seagulls (not unlike Rhode Island’s new license). Additional pages in the passport show the Liberty Bell, Mount Rushmore, cowboys, Indians, farmers  and other hackneyed subjects.

Rather than bemoan America's low level of visual literacy, let's ask why Rhode Island, with its supposedly high proportion of artistic brainpower, cannot produce less pathetic symbols and slogans. With the exception of the "wave" license plate (a handsome and distinctive design by native and noted RISD graduate Tyler Smith), most of the state's recent efforts to promote Rhode Island have bordered on the woeful.

"Whatever you do … " What kind of slogan is that? This is the sort of result you expect from a slick advertising agency. Like the license, this focuses on Newport and Narragansett Bay, as if there are no inland towns, such as Burrillville, Smithfield, Foster or Glocester.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of pumping up Rhode Island is the effort to give the state a new motto: Beautiful. What does that mean? That it was not beautiful before, but is now? Is it more beautiful because we tell our visitors and ourselves? Are we so insecure that we need an official state campaign to make us feel better about ourselves? 

 

The "Discover Beautiful Rhode Island" signs placed at its borders are in themselves handsome objects. But what is their point? That Rhode Islanders may live there, but have never chosen to be curious about their habitat? Does beauty include the grittier parts of Central Falls, Cranston and Pawtucket? Ultimately, these bits of boosterism are just more distraction on the highway, as meaningful as another Cardi's or Alex + Ani billboard. 

 

While the proposed  "Beautiful Rhode Island Ocean State" (what a burden for such a small place!) license plate has been put on hold – permanently, let us hope, its design is yet another example of our design malaise. The Ocean State moniker is still there, the handsome anchor is gone, but a tiny wall-flower like "Beautiful" has been added, as well as the awkward thumbnail-sized blob of a Herreshoff racing yacht – but lacking the graceful lines of the real thing.

Whether designing license plates, welcome signs, stationary, or drivers' licenses, one solution may be found in keeping it simple. We already know how beautiful Rhode Island is (or isn’t). But let us be mysterious, low key and tease people into wanting to come here.

Rhode island license plate–made of aluminum because of World War II steel scarcity–was like a basic black dress: understated, yet oh so elegant.

William Morgan is Providence-based architectural historian who is interested in all aspects of design. He has been variously licensed to drive in several states, including New Jersey, Kentucky, Maryland and Mississippi, the last three of which identified him by race. He is licensed to drive reindeer in Finland. 

Charles Chieppo: In Mass. and elsewhere low returns imperil public pensions

In June, I wrote that public-sector pension plans were facing an existential crisis. Even though many states have adopted reforms, a sampling by the Center for State and Local Excellence of systems that cover 90 percent of the nation's state and local government pension-plan members found that in the last year the plans had on average of 74 percent of the money needed to fund their liabilities -- only a slight uptick from the previous year's figure of 73 percent.

That news was particularly troubling in light of a McKinsey Global Institute reportearlier this year suggesting that pension funds were likely to see lower investment returns going forward. Those McKinsey folks are looking awfully smart: A recent report from the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service found 20-year annualized returns for U.S. public pension systems at their lowest point in the nearly 15 years the service has tracked the statistic.

A look at public pension fund performance in Massachusetts suggests just how bad things might get and underlines the need for far more fundamental reforms if we are to pay for pensions without having to raise taxes or shift money away from core government functions. According to a recent Boston Business Journal report, in fiscal 2016 the state pension fund achieved a mere 1.14 percent return on its investments, just a fraction of the 7.5 percent assumed annual return on which the fund's financial projections are based.

And the state fund's performance looked pretty good compared to other Bay State public pension systems. Including the state fund, the 107 funds averaged returns of less than 1 percent. Twenty-two of the Massachusetts systems actually saw negative returns last year, and 20 have less than half of what they owe to current and future retirees. The pension system for Springfield, the state's third-largest city, is only 26 percent funded.

State officials have tried to put the pension funds on a path to solvency. In 2011, Massachusetts enacted reforms that included increasing the minimum retirement age and limiting the degree to which large salary increases just prior to retirement can boost pension payouts. But the impact of those reforms has been marginal.

Increasingly, it looks like sustainable pension programs will require reforms more likethose enacted earlier this year in Arizona, whose Public Safety Personnel Retirement System had in just over a decade gone from being fully funded to having less than half the assets needed to cover its liabilities. The fund's outlook is a lot better in the wake of a series of bold reforms. The maximum salary for purposes of pension calculations was reduced from $265,000 to $110,000. Current and future pension costs will be split evenly between employers and employees. And to reflect the shared risk, the number of labor representatives on the fund's board was increased.

Under the reformed system, new employees will choose between a defined-contribution plan and a hybrid that combines defined-contribution elements with those of traditional defined-benefit plans. While those new employees can't begin to collect retirement benefits until age 55, they can retire at any time. This important change makes pensions portable, so employees wanting to move on no longer have an incentive to stick around just so they can vest in the retirement plan.

The overhauled system will be so much less expensive that new employees will likely be required to make smaller pension contributions than current employees. In all, 30-year savings are expected to be more than a third of accrued liability.

Comprehensive reforms like those that Arizona has produced become all the more important in an era of paltry pension fund investment returns. While officials in other states may feel that they've already enacted politically difficult pension changes, it's become clearer than ever that the time for more sweeping action is upon us. And we know that nothing does more to add to the pain of necessary reforms than procrastination.

Charles Chieppo is a research fellow at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School and the principal of Chieppo Strategies, a public policy writing and advocacy firm. This piece first ran on governing.com. Charlie_Chieppo@hks.harvard.edu

 

 

Tropical fish are arriving earlier in the summer in Narragansett Bay

A crevalle jack. 

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

When a tropical fish called a crevalle jack turned up this summer in the Narragansett Bay trawl survey, which the University of Rhode Island conducts weekly, it was the first time the species was detected in the more than 50 years that the survey has taken place.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) seine survey of fish in Rhode Island waters also captured a crevalle jack this year for the first time.

While it’s unusual that both institutions would capture a fish they had never recorded in the bay before, it’s not unusual that fish from the tropics are finding their way to the Ocean State. In fact, fish from Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean have been known to turn up in local waters in late summer every year for decades. But lately they’ve been showing up earlier in the season and in larger numbers, which is raising questions among those who pay attention to such things.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about how they get here,” said Jeremy Collie, the URI oceanography professor who manages the weekly trawl survey. “Most of them aren’t particularly good swimmers, so they probably didn’t swim here. They don’t say, ‘It’s August, so let’s go on vacation to New England.’ They’re not capable of long migrations.”

Instead, fish eggs and larvae and occasionally adult fish are believed to arrive in late summer on eddies of warm water that break from the Gulf Stream. Collie said they “probably hitch a ride” on sargassum weed or other bits of seaweed that the currents carry toward Narragansett Bay.

Most of these tropical species, including spotfin butterflyfish, damselfish, short bigeye, burrfish and several varieties of grouper, don’t survive long in the region. When the water begins to get cold in November, almost all perish.

“There’s no transport system to carry them back south, which is the reason they can’t get back where they came from,” Collie said.

While climate change and the warming of the oceans has been responsible for many unusual marine observations in recent years, that doesn’t appear to be the case with the annual arrival of tropical fish in local waters.

“Warming doesn’t really have an effect on it,” said Mark Hall, owner of Biomes Marine Biology Center in North Kingstown, which has been exhibiting locally caught tropical fish since it opened in 1989. “It’s just the way the Gulf Stream meanders and carries these fish our way.”

Ocean warming does appear to be affecting the timing of the arrival of the fish, however.

“Twenty years ago I wouldn’t bother trying to find tropicals until mid-August, but now we’re seeing them in July,” Hall said.

The good news is that none of these tropical species appear to be harming or out-competing the native marine life in Narragansett Bay.

“They arrive in July or August and are dead by November, so they’re just not here long enough to have an impact,” Hall said. “I can’t think of a single animal that’s having a negative effect.”

Collie agrees. “These strays are small and appear here in small numbers. The threat would come from wholesale movements of new species that can stay here for long periods. Tropicals aren’t a threat.”

For those interested in seeing some of the tropical species that are making their way to Rhode Island, visit Biomes in North Kingstown or Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport. Save The Bay just opened a new exhibit this month featuring tropical fish species collected locally by its staff, volunteers and partner organizations, including the Norman Bird Sanctuary and DEM. The exhibit, called The Bay of the Future, features a variety of what manager Adam Kovarsky calls Gulf Stream orphans.

“We want to spark people’s thought processes about the things that can happen from climate change,” he said. “While tropical strays have been showing up here forever and ever, there’s evidence that now they’re showing up in larger numbers and arriving earlier and surviving later. It’s not a problem now, but eventually they may stay year-round, and that could stress our local species.”

Rhode Island resident and author Todd McLeish runs a wildlife blog.

Robert Whitcomb: 38 Studios disaster mainly just sloth, stupidity and provinciality

Excerpted from "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.

There may well have been corruption in the 38 Studios disaster. Certainly the roles of dubious fixer/lobbyist/lawyer Michael Corso and the now jailed former Rhode House Speaker Gordon Fox and their allies need further investigation or at least exposure, and I wish that all the legal information about this outrage had been released.

But stupidity and sloth seem to be the major factors in the plus-$100 million (with interest) disaster, not out-and-out corruption. Maybe the desire of the powers that be to avoid being revealed as slobs has more to do with keeping the full files of this case secret than anything else.

For the fact is that if the legislators (such as then state representative and now state Atty. Gen. Peter Kilmartin) who voted in 2010 for  a package of $125 million  in state bond guarantees, $75 million of which turned out to befor one untested video-game company, had bestirred themselves to  look into the legislation and then call a few venture capitalists and ask them what they thought of what most would  have seen as an idiotic investment, and then displayed a little courage to reject the deal against the wishes of legislative leaders, this outrage never would have happened.

The failure of legislators time and again to do any research on what they’re asked to vote on and to follow, without little information and  no courage, in lockstep the directions of legislative leaders is, to say the least, a problem. Of course that then Gov. Donald Carcieri,  a former high-level backslapper at Old Stone Bank (RIP) and Cookson America, was enthusiastically pushingthe deal, complete with photo ops with Curt Schilling, also helped set the table for the catastrophe.

Making the whole thing more irritating is the knowledge that if  the state had spent the equivalent of the $75 million bond guarantee for 38 Studios on some  substantial projects – e.g., fixing bridges, filling potholes, picking up more roadside trash, repairing state-owed buildings, vocational training or even marketing the state as a tourist mecca – then a wide range of Rhode Islanders could have benefitted and not just the likes of Michael Corso. Or backed bonds of some small but promising Rhode Island-based companies that already had revenues, of all things.

Also, the not-yet-laid-off members of the news media at the time that 38 Studios was proposed could have done a better job in asking investment experts their opinion of this absurd deal. Boston, a major venture-capital center, is just up the road.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Pompeii in Cohasset

From "Once There Was a House…Echoes from the Villa of Mysteries,'' a site-specific installation by Laurie Kaplowitz and Katha Seidman at the South Shore Art Center, Cohasset, Mass., Sept. 16-Nov. 6. The artists write: "'Once There Was A House'  is based on the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, a house where time has stopped, millennia have passed, and as if through a wormhole, we look on recognizing much, wondering at more.''  There are many lost-world villas  in Cohasset, too. It's a old colonial town/fishing village that morphed into, in part, a summer place for rich Bostonians and shoe moguls from Brockton until finally becoming mostly an affluent Boston suburb, with sky-high real-estate prices. During the heyday of its summer-place epoch -- from about 1900to 1930 -- some summer people had the fad of putting up Italianate stucco mansions (with fountains, etc.) on bluffs along its rocky coast and behind itsuncomfortably pebbly beaches. Some of them looked like knockoffs from Pompeii.      


From "Once There Was a House…Echoes from the Villa of Mysteries,'' a site-specific installation by Laurie Kaplowitz and Katha Seidman at the South Shore Art Center, Cohasset, Mass., Sept. 16-Nov. 6.

The artists write: "'Once There Was A House'  is based on the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, a house where time has stopped, millennia have passed, and as if through a wormhole, we look on recognizing much, wondering at more.'' 

There are many lost-world villas  in Cohasset, too. It's a old colonial town/fishing village that morphed into, in part, a summer place for rich Bostonians and shoe moguls from Brockton until finally becoming mostly an affluent Boston suburb, with sky-high real-estate prices.

During the heyday of its summer-place epoch -- from about 1900to 1930 -- some summer people had the fad of putting up Italianate stucco mansions (with fountains, etc.) on bluffs along its rocky coast and behind itsuncomfortably pebbly beaches. Some of them looked like knockoffs from Pompeii.

   

 

Ross Gittell/Jeremy Hitchcock: 'Skating to where the puck is going'

New England’s economy has improved, but economic opportunity and skills gaps contribute to slower growth in employment, income and social mobility than in previous recoveries from recessions. With an aging population and relatively slow natural growth rates in the labor force, these gaps put the future of the New England economy at greater risk than that of other regions.

There are ways to overcome these gaps. Stronger bridges between education and employment (“E-to-E”) and specifically between the region’s employers and community colleges can be built, which would benefit the regional economy and individuals and their families across New England.

The data are strong on the benefits for state economies and for individuals from advancing higher educational attainment. In New Hampshire, for example, moving the percentage of working-age adults with college attainment from its current level of approximately 50% to 65% would mean a $1,400 increase in per-capita personal income and an increase of about $130 million in state revenue annually, according to the National Center on Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).

For individuals in New Hampshire, the increase in average weekly earnings from high school graduate to associate degree is over 21% and, for bachelor’s and higher, over 50%. Even with the strong returns to higher education, the percentage of working-age adults with a college degree is not rising fast enough to keep New Hampshire among the top states in educational attainment and make up for the retirement of the state’s aging, highly educated Baby Boomers.

Nationwide, from 2008 through 2012, the percentage of U.S. adults with an associate degree or higher increased by 1.5%, while New Hampshire’s percentage increased by less than half that—just 0.7%. This is occurring while increasing numbers of employers are bemoaning the lack of available skilled workers and many New Hampshire working families are struggling financially.

Currently many high school graduates in New England, particularly from low-income families, are going directly into the labor market and taking jobs in relatively low-paying positions in retailing and services with very limited advancement prospects. They will very likely be the “working poor” for an entire generation. They will receive low pay and be the first to lose their jobs during the next economic downturn. The challenge and the opportunity is to inform these young people and their parents of the benefits of going to college and working in the region—and the consequences of not going to college. Business and education leaders have to provide guided, supportive and affordable pathways to college completion and into fruitful employment in New England.

The lack of skilled workers while many residents remain marginally employed might be best characterized as an education-to-employment gap—an E-to-E disconnect. Individuals without postsecondary education or an applied higher education skillset are not as successful as those with higher education and with their education aligned with the needs of companies that are hiring for well-paying positions. In New England, the employer needs are increasingly complicated and specialized. Employers need workers with the so-called “soft skills” of communication and teamwork, plus the ability to problem-solve and think critically—and they increasingly require workers with domain expertise in a field that they can apply, for example, marketing, industrial design, machining or coding.

But fixing the problems in the labor market and economy is more complicated than advocating “advanced education.” In Future of the Professions, Oxford University economist Daniel Susskind talks about 130 licensed professionals, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a Standard Occupational Classification to define 840 different occupations. It used to be employment was as simple as medical school for a doctor, law school for an attorney, business school for an accountant, engineering school to be a civil engineer, or a community college for welder.

Those examples—medical, accounting, welding, engineering programs—suggest the value of an “apprentice-type” model with education aligned with and drawing on work experience and tied to employment after credential obtainment. And there are many examples of programs at the doctoral, bachelor's and certificate levels that continue to be effective at education-to-employment progression and are based on apprenticeship-like approaches. But what we need now are more programs developing student skillsets for which there are rising numbers of unmet jobs. In many of these, a credential alone will not complete a graduate’s training, but will be part of their E-to-E journey. This gets more pronounced as the economy becomes more complicated.

Because E-to-E is traditionally decoupled and new jobs are being created outside standard progressions, too small portion of the population can fill these jobs—and that is slowing the growth of the economy. There are many fields and job classifications that have no well-defined program or progression. Education institutions and business organizations need to partner more than ever to create the bridge from education to employment to close the skill gap and the opportunity gap.

We can point to several places where building that E-to-E bridge from education to employment has been successful in New Hampshire. In each of these cases, N.H. community colleges have been a catalyst for creating on-ramps to economic opportunity and employment. Great Bay Community College (GBCC) in Portsmouth and Rochester, and Nashua Community College are partnering with suppliers to the global aerospace industry, Albany International, Safran and GE to train workers in advanced composite materials manufacturing and CNC machining. In these programs, college faculty worked closely with company engineers, management and frontline workers to design curriculum. Students’ program work includes on-the-job experience and students have internship opportunities and virtually guaranteed employment after successful program completion.

Given the context of the opportunity and skills gaps we face, it’s clear that we need to cross the chasms. If we can tap that potential, we can unleash another wave of growth and enhance the competitiveness of the region. How can we broaden work-based education and training models beyond traditional Department of Labor strategies and other traditional apprenticeship practices to have them span K-12, postsecondary education and the workforce with a larger number of employers and industries, including in the fields of health, IT and financial services.

One of our previous education solutions was a general purpose “high school” education. The rise of high school education began with the Committee of Ten in the late 19th Century, and high schools became ubiquitous during the early 20th Century. This has been a great success as we are able to reach the entire population. The high school systems have become built up, standardized and, now unfortunately, too often exist in discipline silos and divorced from 21st Century workforce requirements. To confront our new challenges, we need to partner, collaborate and adapt. Where we all have fallen short is that our high schools, community technical education, community colleges and industry do not collaborate enough in the areas of high employment need.

The mental model is nothing new but it’s essentially a dual-education system that combines theory and practice (which happens to be the motto of Jeremy’s alma mater, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute).

NHTI (Concord’s community college) and Manchester Community College IT graduates comprise over 10% of the workforce for Dyn Inc, the fastest-growing IT company in New Hampshire. GBCC and River Valley Community College in Claremont and Lebanon are partnering with Exeter Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, respectively, on training medical technicians. All these programs provide guided pathways from general education, to job-specific employment skills in occupations that pay greater than average wages for associate degree holders and have promotion and career opportunities. All these programs provide work-based learning opportunities such as internships and job placement And students can enter all these programs while still in high school through dual-enrollment (Running Start) courses that the Community College System of New Hampshire has with virtually every high school (over 90) in the state.

These programs are not educating professional engineers or doctors but rather  professionals, desperately needed by employers as evidenced by the thousands of openings in these fields. In essence, we expanded the high-skilled talent pool by bridging the education to economy divide by establishing educational pathways to regional employment and, in doing this, we are addressing the opportunity and skills gaps in New Hampshire.

What is required is that community college and other educators work alongside employers from industry in the design and delivery of the guided-pathway programs and that these programs are focused on 21st Century skills—those with high future need and strong career prospects. We in workforce development and higher education need to do what hockey great Wayne Gretzky attributed his success to: skating “to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Industry and community college leaders have to work together to build bridges and guided pathways that support economic opportunity, employment and income growth, and a strong future for the New England regional economy. We can help to address the opportunity and skill gaps by building stronger connections of E-to-E: education-to-employment.

Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Jeremy Hitchcock is the founder of Dyn, a New Hampshire-based Internet performance management company.

This piece first ran on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org).

 

Bleached out clams

By FRANK CARINI, for ecoRI news (ecori.org)

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Dan Briggs is afraid he’s losing his job. That explains his angry posts to social media this summer. His venting, however, isn’t doing anything to solve the problem, but at least his boss doesn’t mind.

For the past 20 years, the South Kingstown resident has run a one-man commercial operation that sells streamers — dug by hand, with help from a short rake — from tidal areas throughout Narragansett Bay. The soft-shell clams he’s digging up now — far fewer than he was a dozen years ago — often don’t look right, at least when it comes to the color of their shells. He stopped eating his own catch several years ago.

“I know this is bad advertising for my business, but I want the bay cleaned up,” said Briggs, who comes from a long line of quahoggers and diggers. “I just want a cleaner bay, a better protected bay, so I can keep my job and sell high-quality shellfish. But we don’t care about cleaning up spots; we just cover our asses and close them to shellfishing.”

ecoRI News recently spent a Saturday morning with the frustrated fisherman. We meet him at Bissel Cove, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, was an impaired waterbody in 2014, 2012 and 2010 when it came to shellfish consumption. Rhode Island’s 2014 list of impaired waters also noted that Bissel Cove didn't support the consumption of shellfish, because of the presence of fecal coliform.

Briggs took us to two spots that he said once supported plenty of steamers. Today, both locations — Fox Island, a short boat ride from the shore of Bissel Cove, and the western shore of Jamestown — are largely graveyards for bleached clam shells.

Our guide blames the discoloration of the shells — and his dying livelihood — on the amount of chlorine being used at wastewater treatment plants to kill pathogens. He doesn’t buy the argument that the ultraviolet systems used at these facilities to remove chlorine before the treated effluent is released into Narragansett Bay is adequately addressing the accumulation of this element in the Ocean State’s most important natural resource. His eyes, and years of shellfishing experience, tell him something is wrong.

“We can’t continue to treat the bay like everyone’s private leach field,” Briggs said. “We’re dumping too much chlorine into the bay.”

The use of chlorine is reducing the amount of bacteria in Narragansett Bay, but Briggs believes the buildup of this element is having unintended and overlooked consequences. “Do you want to eat a bleached-out white clam?” he asked.

Chlorine at concentrations to bleach shells would be toxic to bivalves, according to scientists and researchers ecoRI News contacted after our late-July visit with Briggs. It's doubtful, they said, that that much chlorine was being released into Narragansett Bay, because of dechlorination procedures being conducted at wastewater treatment facilities to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Michael Rice, Ph.D., professor of fisheries and aquaculture in the Department of Fisheries, Animal & Veterinary Science at the University of Rhode Island, said the bleaching phenomenon in many species of clams can be caused by acidic bottom conditions, mostly in coves, brought about by summer decomposition of organic material that builds up during colder months.

"Microbial decomposition converts the organic sediments to carbon dioxide that causes local areas of low pH (acidic conditions) that erode the outer layers of the shells leaving chalky white surfaces," he wrote in an e-mail to ecoRI News. "Quahogs coming out of Greenwich Cove look like this often. The bad side of this is that steamers are less tolerant of these types of conditions than the quahogs that have a thicker shell."

Marta Gomez-Chiarri, Ph.D., chairwoman of URI's Department of Fisheries, Animal & Veterinary Science, said biogeochemical reactions may lead to conditions in sediments that can lead to the bleaching of shells.

"Of course, these are all hypothesis, and I don’t know of anybody that has tested them rigorously or done any measurements in the field to check if chlorine is present in areas where the bleaching occurs," she wrote in an e-mail. "This is a great question for researchers, and something that fishermen (not only clam diggers, but also lobstermen) have been interested in having scientists study."

Briggs, a longtime shellfisherman, often finds more dead shells than live steamers after flipping a section of a tidal area.

On the Jamestown, R.I., shore, Briggs flipped a dozen or so spots, typically finding more dead shells than live steamers. On one flip, he counted 14 dead and just three alive. The shells of both featured a lot of white. He noted that the percentage of dead steamers to live ones is disturbing.

“There’s nothing but dead shell here,” Briggs said. “No babies tells me there’s nothing here. Something is killing them.”

Ribbon worms alone can’t be held responsible, but David Gregg, Ph.D., executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, said research shows steamers are being affected by green crabs.

On the banks of Fox Island a little later, nearly a dozen more flips with his short rake exposed an even bleaker picture. Briggs uncovered only a handful of live steamers, but plenty of whitewashed dead shells. He said the same picture exists in once-fertile spots around the Jamestown and Newport bridges and along Prudence Island.

“Chlorine is killing them,” Briggs said. “There must be other ways to treat our sewage than dump it in the bay. I’m not a scientist, but there must be a better way to collect and treat our sewage.”

Chlorine is widely used as a disinfectant for sewage treatment plant effluent and to treat combined sewer overflow discharges. Chlorine can cause environmental harm at low levels, and is especially harmful to organisms that live in water. It combines with inorganic material in water to form chloride salts, and with organic material in water to form chlorinated organic chemicals.

The impact of chlorine use in wastewater treatment facilities on shellfish health, however, is largely unknown, as little research has been conducted, anywhere.

"I’m sure chlorine in effluent does bad things but bleaching steamers white isn’t one of them," Gregg wrote in an e-mail.

He also noted that chalky shells "are more likely a symptom of ocean acidification caused by too much carbon dioxide in the air from burning fossil fuels." Gregg said he couldn't confirm that Narragansett Bay is more acidic now than before, but noted that chalky shells "is what I would think it could look like."

Briggs is one of the last remaining shellfishermen dry digging for steamers in Narragansett Bay tidal areas. His income dropped by $15,000 last year, despite working 300 days in 2015. A typical day means flipping some 200 square feet of coastline. He’s having a harder time filling his tall white buckets with steamers, which he currently sells for $4.50 a pound wholesale.

Briggs said state and local officials can’t just blame the disappearance of steamers — and other marine species — on overdigging or overfishing.

“We’re polluting the bay with chlorine and poop,” he said. “All the regulations, all the paperwork, are on us. We just can’t hide all this sludge in the bay. I love my job. That’s why I’m complaining.”

Don Pesci: In Fairfield, Trump shouts what others whisper

The Trump rally in the heart of still wealthy Connecticut -- Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, in Connecticut’s uber-rich “Gold Coast” – was hot in both the literal and metaphorical sense.

Five thousand supporters of Donald Trump braving the heat, 100 degrees and climbing, were packed like sardines at the university awaiting the saving word. Trump rallies are political Chautauqua events. What’s a Chautauqua rally without steaming hot crowds, eh? A flop, that’s what.

It is Trump, not the recently defanged Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders, who evokes a William Jennings Bryan excitement in crowds. Dismissed from the Democratic race following an amusingly uneventful Democratic National Convention, Mr. Sanders on cue sheepishly endorsed Hillary Clinton – the Bonnie of the Bonnie and Clyde Clinton Foundation and ambled off. His will be a pleasant exile:  Salon will move on; the phone will not ring.

 

The national media, chronically unable to step in front of its own prejudices, hasn’t quite figured Trump out yet.

Mr. Trump connects with the political “everyman” – the unwashed masses who have not yet succumbed to the irresistible editorials of Eastern Seaboard progressives -- adopting his thought patterns and speech codes  that need it be said, are not the thought patterns and speech codes of 99 percent of the editorial boards of major newspapers in the dis-United States. Mr. Trump’s opposite is not, as has been supposed, the boring pin-striped Republican of yore, but the universally disdained “mainstream media” and, of course, incumbent establishment politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who have made a ruin of domestic and foreign policy. Lately, Mr. Trump has identified President Obama as the  founder of ISIS, scattering the wits of the usual political TV commentators.

When Mr. Trump paused several times in his stock stump sermon to castigate the establishment media – “Honestly, I’m not running against Crooked Hillary. I’m running against the crooked media” – electric applause rumbled through the crowd. The anti-media rhetoric was red meat thrown to lions.

But what really resonated was the notion that inherent and creaky incumbent power structures are by definition the cause and not the solution to our problems. This is a flag stolen from the iron grip of the journalistic ancien regime.

One “white male” in the crowd was carrying a sign announcing he was an “intelligent college graduate,” – take that New York Times! -- a disappointment no doubt to those who insist Mr. Trump’s support comes from redneck rubes clinging to their Christian  God and guns. Another celebrant, Mitch Beck, a 54-year-old executive recruiter from Monroe, summed up the long “winter of our discontent” with remarkable precision: “If Bush [the younger] put the economy in the grave, Obama put the dirt on top of it. I hope Trump has a shovel,” presumably to dig the rest of us out from under the rubble.

The furry and primitive notion of Mr. Trump is that he represents some sort of viral reaction – but to what and for what no one knows. Comparisons with the recently exiled Mr. Sanders persist: Mr. Trump is a populist of rare vintage; he is a herculean outsider come to clean the Augean Stables in Washington DC; like all  Caesars, he likes walls; he is either the spear-point of some unknowable advance in human nature, or an imbecile. He stirs ancient prejudices in the governing class. He is a political Pan piping a new tune. He is a future full of frankencense and myrrh. He is Attila at the gates.

Mr. Trump’s overreached: Mr. Obama is not literally the  founder of ISIS. But what about Gilbert Chagoury,  aLebanese billionaire who contributed $1 billion to the Clinton Foundation? He found that his business endeavors in Nigeria were being hampered by the U.S. State Department’s designation of Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. The designation, some think, may have been delayed following Mr. Chagoury’s generous contribution.  At best, the politically toxic contribution points to an invitation to corruption that lies at the center of the Clinton Foundation, a private slush fund connecting former Secretary of State Clinton with her own campaign fundraising.

Trump supporters are not imbecilic: They understand perfectly well the difference between a wedding invitation and a wedding, but they also understand that a wedding invitation is a strong indicator that a wedding is at hand.

Mr. Trump speaks their language and shouts in the public arena what politicians whisper in closets – which is why he has a larger and more attentive audience than the editorial board of The New York Times.

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

Brexit expert to lead off Providence Committee on Foreign Relations season

 

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

Herewith is part of the PCFR’s annual Summer Letter. Please note that there are a few updates below.

We are heading into our 89th season, which is a pretty impressive number. 

One of our members says that the PCFR dinner meetings are “the best party in town.’’ That’s a competitive field, of course, but we think that we can accurately say that attendees have a very good time, while learning a bit more about the world.

Our 2015-2016 season speakers included:

Evan Matthews, director of the Port of Davisville, on international shipping changes, particularly in the context of the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Greg Lindsay, writer, futurist and  expert on cities around the world and their relationship to airports.

Hedrick Smith, PBS documentary maker, former star foreign correspondent.

David Alward,  Canadian general consul.

Allan Cytryn, international cybersecurity expert.

Andrew Michta, U.S, Naval War College expert on Russia and NATO.

Rima Salah, High U.N. humanitarian-relief official.

Eduardo Mestre, Cuban-American civic leader and international  banker.

Paul Glader, author, former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent and expert on Germany.

Scott Shane, New York Times correspondent, book author and expert on terrorism.

Mark Blyth, our first speaker, whom some of you have heard on NPR commenting on Brexit, will talk on Wednesday, Sept. 14, about Europe after Brexit.

Mark Blyth is Eastman Professor of Political Economy andProfessor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs at Brown.

He is an internationally celebrated political economist whose research focuses upon how uncertainty and randomness affect complex systems, particularly economic systems, and why people continue to believe stupid economic ideas despite buckets of evidence to the contrary. He is the author of several books, including Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press 2013, and The Future of the Euro (with Matthias Matthijs) (Oxford University Press 2015). 

Coming fast after that will be:

Prof. Morris Rossabi, probably the world’s greatest expert on Central Asia and particularly Mongolia: a democracy stuck between the police states of Russia and China, Sept. 21.  How does this faraway country do it? He’ll be speaking to us soon after returning from Mongolia and other points in Asia.

Then:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Tod Sedgwick, on thetense situation in Central Europe,  Oct. 5.

Meanwhile,  the World Affairs Council of Rhode Island and the PCFR are preparing a forum for Oct. 20 at the Hope Club on the foreign-policy visions and challenges of the U.S. presidential candidates. Stay tuned.

Naval War College Prof. James Holmes on the geopolitics of global warming,  Nov. 15.

German General Consul Ralf Horlemann on the role of Germany in an E.U. without the U.K and with an aggressive Russia pressing in from the east, Dec. 14.

International epidemiologist Rand Stoneburner,  M.D., on Zika and other burgeoning threats to world health, Jan. 18.

Indian Admiral Nirmal Verma, on military and geopolitical issues in South and Southeast Asia, Feb. 15.

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

Brazilian political economist and commentator Evodio Kaltenecker on April 5 to talk about the crises facing that huge nation.

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.

Meanwhile, we’re trying to keep some flexibility to respond to events. Everything in human affairs is tentative. ”We make plans and God laughs….’’

We are talking with  our friend Michael Soussan to come to speak about the U.N., diplomacy, Iraq and his book Backstabbing for Beginners, now being made into a major movie and with an international travel expert (to give us business- and pleasure-travel advice) in world that sometimes seems to be imploding.

Suggestions and contacts are always appreciated!

Save this jewel of a landscape

Excerpted and revised from an item in Robert Whitcomb's  Aug. 11 Digital Diary column in GoLocal24. 

Many readers may know the exquisite landscape around Allens Pond, in South Dartmouth, Mass. The mix of very fertile farmland, marsh, river, pond,  beautiful beaches on Buzzards Bay and lovely modest old houses is one of the treasures of our region, There are vineyards nearby that recall the Bordeaux region of France. But, as in any such areas close to cities, there are always intense development pressures.  In this case, challenges include a proposal for a 38-lot subdivision.

A coalition of groups, led by the Buzzards  Bay Coalition (savebuzzardsbay.org) and the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (dnrt.org), are trying to raise money and jump through a complicated series of legal and financial hoops to preserve one of the few stretches ofrural coastal landscape in the Northeast megalopolis. Good luck to them!

-- Robert Whitcomb

Llewellyn King: How to get around Washington's arrogant gatekeepers

There must be a special place in hell for the gatekeepers -- with a special circle for the Washington gatekeepers. These nonentities man the gates in Washington and, by design or simple obduracy, pervert the purposes of government.

They also fuel the lobbying industry. The name of that game is “access” and it is sold openly. If you have worked on Capitol Hill, or in a Cabinet secretary’s office, bingo! You have access.

Chances are the general public, journalists or others who need to speak to the principals, whether elected or appointed, will not get a look in because of the gatekeepers: those busybodies who take it upon themselves to affect things by blocking messages or meetings.

In Washington at present, the gatekeepers have more power than I have seen in 50 years. You have the constitutional right to petition your elected and appointed officials. But that right is abrogated if you cannot get through the door.

That is where the lobbyists come in; they can get through the door and influence the principals.

None of this is new, but there is a new dimension. Time was when you could get into federal buildings and walk around. That meant you had a chance of literally bumping into people you might want to buttonhole. Now surly guards demand appointments and IDs. A chance encounter with an assistant secretary is no longer in the cards.

There are channels that are harder for the new face to navigate than for those who have access. As most of us do not have this means of entry, we must settle for not being heard or getting routine rejection from the staffer manning the gate.

I have never known a time when the bureaucracy was so indifferent to the public when it comes to access. If a reporter does not cover a particular department regularly, your request for an interview will be sidelined or ignored. And if you represent a publication that does not have the weight of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, you will be dismissed.

Friends of mine work who for a charity dealing with a terrible and under-reported disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, have found the gatekeepers not only unhelpful but obstructionist at the Department of Health and Human Services and one of its agencies, the National Institutes of Health.

When I managed reporters in Washington, I urged them to find ingenious ways around the gatekeepers, such as riding back and forth on the subway that carries members from the Capitol to their office buildings. Eventually, you would have a word with a congressman. And, surprise, surprise, he or she would be happy to oblige, unaware of the barriers erected around them by their gatekeepers. I have known senators who would sit in their offices hoping to see a new face, while their staffers turned them away.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of out-of-control gatekeeping is not confined to the government and Congress. It is now rampant throughout society.

But it is the isolation of government from the people that is damaging and pernicious. It is that which creates and feeds the wrongs of lobbying and establishes the power of the elites.

Officialdom knows that saying “no” has more power than saying “yes.” The gatekeepers, who decide who should be heard and who should be denied, have always been with us. Witness the courts of Europe.

To get around the Washington gatekeepers, here are some extreme measures:

· Get a home address for the person you want to talk to -- there are many services that will sell you armfuls of personal information, including home address and telephone numbers.

· Join the person's church -- public piety is in.

· Go wild on social media -- shame the person.

You could, I suppose, try sending a drone with a message through the window of the unfortunate one you have been denied access to. But I would not advise that, just yet.

Llewellyn King ( lewellynking1@kingpublishing.com), based in Rhode Island and Washington, D,C., is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant. This piece first ran on InsideSources.

Overseer’s note: I can testify to the fact that it is much more difficult now to talk to government officials in Washington than when I worked there from time to time in the ‘80s and ‘70s --- Robert Whitcomb.

 

Closely watched trains

"Restored Memories,'' by Zolt Asta, at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, in September.

These pictures are eerie and evocative of Europe's 20th Century totalitarian horrors. Some evil actors in the world now, particularly Putin, ISIS, Assad, China and North Korea, arouse some existential fears that we had thought would not be around again for a long time.

Mr. Asta is a Hungarian. He writes, not about the images here but in general about his work:

My aim is to investigate the role of the human soul in today's technocratic society. During the renaissance period the centre of the universe was located in people, but now as it seems its place was taken by the instruments of the consumer society. I wonder how could the human presence disappear? It still manifest but in a more hidden and coded way. I depict these coded and hidden situations by using various media. I juxtapose the sterile and remote world with lyric and often romantic human contexts. I tend to use sacral motives since I believe the human soul is sacral in essence.’’