Pine-pollen time

  Pine pollen awaits being liberated by the wind.

Pine pollen awaits being liberated by the wind.


“Now I know that summer is here, no matter how cold it is at night, for when I went out to the car this morning, the windshield was dusted with orange and the whole shiny dark blue of the body was powdered. The pine pollen has come! This is a thick, almost oily deposit that penetrates everything. If you close a room and lock the windows, the sills will be drifted with the pollen the next morning. The floors turn orange.’’

Gladys Taber, in My Own Cape Cod (1971)

Mona Younis: On poverty, Americans' low expectations of their government

 Homeless man in Boston.

Homeless man in Boston.

From OtherWords.org

Are we Americans unworthy? That’s certainly the message we’re getting from our government.

Over 40 percent of us are poor or low-income. How is that possible in the wealthiest country in history?

“The United States is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance,” explains U.N. rapporteur on poverty Philip Alston, “they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable health care, or growing up in a context of total deprivation.”

Alston says that “the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power” — which means that “with political will, it could readily be eliminated.” Unfortunately, our government’s political will is increasingly exercised to make things more, not less, difficult for us.

Most Americans don’t know it, but in 1977 the U.S. actually signed an international treaty called the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which mandates government responsibility to ensure their citizens do more than merely survive. Unfortunately, one

U.S. administration after the other has completely disregarded it, and Congress never ratified it.

Our leaders have apparently judged that we either don’t need — or don’t deserve — things like an adequate standard of living and universal health care. As one dizzy U.S. congressman,  Idaho Republican Raul Labrador claims, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

164 countries have ratified the treaty, but ours won’t. Are their people more deserving than we are? Is it something we’ve done?

It can’t be because we’re doing fine without those rights.

I mean, look at our minimum wage. There isn’t a “single county or metropolitan area,” as a Guardian report put it, where a minimum wage can get you a “modest two-bedroom home, which the federal government defines as paying less than 30 percent of a household’s income for rent and utilities.”

The price we pay for this disregard for our fundamental human rights begins at the beginning of our lives. Indeed, many of us struggle to survive to our first birthday. Citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington Post declared our infant mortality rate “a national embarrassment,” noting that it’s higher “than any of the other 27 wealthy countries.”

That’s painful enough. But they went on: “Despite health care spending levels that are significantly higher than any other country in the world, a baby born in the U.S. is less likely to see his first birthday than one born in Hungary, Poland, or Slovakia. Or in Belarus. Or in Cuba, for that matter.”

Sad!

And a recent UNICEF assessment of how children are faring found the U.S. near the bottom of 41 rich countries when it came to meeting goals on child poverty, hunger, health, and education.

Tragic!

Well, there’s an important difference between us and other prosperous countries: Their citizens expect and demand more of their governments than we do of ours. And governments do only as much as their citizens expect — not more! So why do we accept so little from ours? How have we come to deem ourselves less worthy than others?

Mona Younis is a human rights advocate. 

David Warsh: Comey tried to play referee in a dangerous game; see widely ignored context here

The report of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices has been extensively hashed over since it was published.   You can read about it, if you like, here or here or here.

What’s lacking is vital context. Yet tucked away on the last two public pages of the 568-page report are some tantalizing findings destined to eventually become the fundamental background to the story.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report covered eight broad topics, as described by its executive summary –

  • The FBI investigation, code-named “Midyear Exam,” of former Secretary of State Clinton’s email server.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey’s go-it-alone statement about the FBI’s findings in July, 2016.
  • The Department of Justice’s subsequent decision not to charge Clinton with a crime.
  • The discovery in September of some unexamined Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer, and the month that passed before the FBI sought a warrant to examine the machine.
  •  Comey’s decision to notify congressional leaders in October that the investigation had been reopened,
  • Some recusal issues.
  • Various text messages among agents.
  • And the FBI’s policies regarding Twitter announcements.

Indeed, the report presents an unusually thorough re-examination of the issues.  Agents assigned to the IG’s office sifted through 1.2 million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, some of them more than once.

News organizations concentrated on two aspects:  Comey’s decision to make a unilateral announcement of FBI findings on July 5, in which he scolded candidate Clinton for having been “extremely careless” while recommending publicly that no charges against her be brought; and  his decision to notify Congress on Oct. 28 that new emails had been found.  Both decisions are held by partisans to have influenced the election to some unknowable degree.

In both cases, Horowitz was blistering. Of the July statement, its contents undisclosed in advance to his Justice Department superiors, the IG wrote that Comey had been both insubordinate and heedless of well-established FBI rules. He should have made his recommendation privately and allowed (or forced) President Obama’s Justice Department to make the call (and take the heat) that no charges would be brought.  Of October, Horowitz wrote:

"… Comey’s description of his choice as being between 'two doors,' one labeled 'speak' and one labeled 'conceal,' was a false dichotomy. The two doors were actually labeled 'follow policy/practice' and 'depart from policy/practice.' His task was not to conduct an ad hoc comparison of case-specific outcomes and risks. Rather, the burden was on him to justify an extraordinary departure from these established norms, policies, and precedent.''

Receiving slightly more attention, at least in conservative media, was a text exchange between the agent leading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections and a high-ranking FBI lawyer, then his girlfriend.  Lisa Page wrote on Aug. 8, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?”  “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” replied special agent Peter Strzok.

(Remember, Paul Manafort was still managing the Trump campaign at the time; 10 days later he resigned.) In September Strzok was promoted to deputy assistant director of the Espionage Section.  In October, he drafted Comey’s letter to congressional Republicans – the one widely seen as harmful to Clinton’s candidacy.)

Overlooked entirely in the coverage, as far as I could tell, were four pages at the end of Chapter 12 -- “Allegations that Department and FBI Employees Improperly Disclosed Non-Public Information” – in other words, leaks.

Horowitz expressed “profound concerns” about the “volume and extent” of unauthorized communications, despite “strict limits,” which had been “widely ignored.” The IG’s ability to identify leakers was hampered by two factors. Horowitz wrote:  Sensitive information was widely shared, often involving dozens, and in some cases, more than a hundred persons; second, the normal strict rules governing disclosure appeared to have been widely ignored during the month before the election.

Which leads to those two pages at the end of the report. (I couldn’t think of a way to link them but you can easily scroll down here to find them at the bottom – Attachments G and H.) They contain two “link charts,” or schematic diagrams, depicting verified communications between FBI employees and media representatives, in April/May and October 2016.

Why April/May? That was a period in which Comey was pressuring the Department of Justice to move more quickly to obtain possession of the laptops that Clinton lawyers had used to sort personal from State Department messages, telling DOJ supervisors that he might appoint a special prosecutor if he couldn’t obtain them. (Horowitz found no evidence that he seriously considered it.) Already Comey had begun to contemplate the unilateral announcement he would make in July, fearing that the Obama administration could no longer announce a decision not to prosecute Clinton in a way that the public would find objective and credible.

Why October?  That was the period of intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering over the existence of the Weiner emails. After Comey revealed their existence in his letter to congressional leaders, Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett followed up with a blockbuster story, FBI in Internal Feud over Hillary Clinton Probe. Barret disclosed, among other things, that an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation had begun.

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was later fired, at the IG’s instigation, and referred for possible criminal prosecution, for having confirmed the existence of the second investigation to Barrett, and for having been less than candid when interviewed about his actions. McCabe has said that he was defending the FBI (and himself) against earlier unauthorized leaks accusing him of resisting the investigation.

No details are included in those diagrams about the identities of the callers and the called, but it seems a reasonable bet that the centerpiece of “Network Two” is reporter Barrett.   Whoever it is, you get from those 112 calls a pretty good idea of what true shoe-leather reporting looks like these days. And remember, the charts reflect FBI contacts only with journalists; congressional staffers are not mentioned.  (They may yet be if the Democrats regain the House.)

Comey has insisted, both in his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, and in interviews with agents working for the IG, that the threat of leaks had no effect on his decision to write that letter on the eve of the election. Some senior officials who worked for him weren’t so sure.  His general counsel, James Baker, told the IG, “If we didn’t put out a letter, somebody is going to leak it.”  Rudolph Giuliani, a U.S. attorney before he becoming mayor of New York, was widely involved as a go-between between FBI-connected sources and reporters at the time.

In each case, Comey’s defense against the Inspector General’s criticisms has been that he felt the FBI – and perhaps the nation itself – were  caught in a “500-year flood” and that extraordinary measures were required to deal with it.   Precisely this sense of the extraordinary is missing from Horowitz’s report.

The last word in these events will belong to journalists, first, and then historians. Among the former, reporter Barrett will likely be the most important. He left The WSJ  for The Washington Post in February 2017 and the next year helped The Post share a Pulitzer Prize with The New York Times for national reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Russia's connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.

Comey sought to play the role of referee. My hunch is that eventually he will be seen to have performed a service similar to that of another outsize regulator with an independent streak.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, also 6 feet 8 inches tall, began a costly campaign against price inflation in the late 1970s.  Despite expert skepticism and political criticism, he won his battle over a 10 years and subsequently was celebrated at a hero.

Upholding post-Watergate standards at the Justice Department (Comey was deputy attorney general 2003-05) and the FBI during three presidential administrations is not the same as making monetary policy..  Yet there may be something in the experience of growing up tall that predisposes some men to act in certain ways when confronted with emergency. Whether you think the comparison is apt depends on what you expect will happen to President Trump and the congressional Republicans who support him.

David Warsh is a longtime business and political columnist and economic historian. He is proprietor of Somerville, Mass.-based economicprincipals.com, where this column first appeared.

        

Chris Powell: Kardashian's lesson for Moral Monday poseurs

  Kim Kardashian.

Kim Kardashian.


People who don't watch what is ironically called "reality" television have never understood Kim Kardashian's reason for being except perhaps for her combining a voluptuous figure with tight clothes. But if she never does anything else with her life, she will have justified it by persuading President Trump to pardon Alice Johnson, the 63-year-old woman who has been in federal prison for more than 20 years, serving a life sentence for being part of a drug ring in Tennessee, a first offense and a nonviolent one. 

Twenty years is unjust for mere drug dealing, and mercy is often in order, especially from the president, who lately had been calling for capital punishment for drug dealers. Yes, as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker complains, the nation's prisons hold thousands of other drug offenders whose sentences are disproportionate to their crimes. But let Kardashian's efforts prompt a review of those cases and indeed of drug criminalization generally. 

After all, as economic inequality worsens because of government policy, contraband law increases the temptation for people to make a living by breaking it. Drug law imprisons some people, like Johnson, longer than some people convicted of murder or manslaughter. 

Trump is not likely to give up his demagoguery any time soon. But if there is a spark of decency and mercy in him, it should be searched for and nurtured. 

Kardashian offers a lesson for the people of Connecticut's Moral Monday group who are making a career of blocking traffic in the Hartford area to protest poverty, racism and such. 

The Moral Monday people exalt this as civil disobedience but it is far from the civil disobedience of old, like the lunch-counter and bus sit-ins protesting racial segregation. Those protests had a direct connection to the evil being protested. Blocking traffic today has none. Indeed, it offends even those who otherwise might be sympathetic. 

The civil disobedience of old also was connected to specific policy objectives. Articulating no specific policy objectives in their protests, the Moral Monday people might as well protest the weather. For they aim less to accomplish anything in policy than to demonstrate self-righteousness. They don't care that by blocking traffic they are inconveniencing the supposed oppressed as much as the supposed oppressors. With their choreographed and gentle arrests, arranged in advance with the police, they seek a mock martyrdom. 

A member of the Moral Monday group, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Manchester, the Rev. Josh Pawelek, who has gotten himself arrested several times only to be sentenced to a little community service, told the (Manchester) Journal Inquirer the other day: "I'm breaking the law because I don't know how else to draw attention to the laws that impoverish people." 

Yet every day Connecticut and the country are full of political clamor and even a little action in regard to poverty. To influence policy and lawmaking and improve lives, people write letters to their elected representatives and news organizations. They support or oppose candidates for office or even become candidates themselves. They speak at public forums. They volunteer for charitable groups. If their message is compelling enough they may even recruit disciples and travel the world to spread it, risking a martyrdom far more severe than community service. 

Yes, Kim Kardashian is fortunate enough to be able to stop traffic without blocking an intersection. But who would have considered her more thoughtful and relevant than a clergyman? 


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.
 

City getting bad for cynics

  The Rhode Island School of Design, along the banks of the Providence River.

The Rhode Island School of Design, along the banks of the Providence River.

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

Local cynics will be depressed to read that Magnify Money has ranked the Greater Providence area the fifth-best metro area in America in which to retire.  The rankers looked at lifestyle, cost of living, medical quality and cost, and assisted-care quality and cost.

The high score was explained by what were seen as reasonable (in regional terms) monthly housing and goods-and-services costs and the quality and quantity of its retirement and assisted-care facilities. Assisted-care establishments are certainly thick on the ground in Rhode Island, especially in Providence!

The highest-ranked cities: Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Denver; Charlotte, and then Kansas City, Mo., and Providence, tied for fifth. The bottom three, by the way, are Miami, Houston and New York. (The first two have an increasing propensity to be underwater.)

Interestingly, the Providence area’s “lifestyle’’ ranking, a much better than  average index score of 55.9, was brought down by a low  volunteerism rate (18.6 percent, compared to a 50-city average of 24.7 percent) – something I have long lamented about Rhode Island. The  highest rates of volunteerism tend to be concentrated in affluent parts of the state, such as Barrington, East Greenwich and the East Side of Providence. We need to widen that!

Porch maintenance and righteousness.

  Sitting in a demoralizing screened-in porch.

Sitting in a demoralizing screened-in porch.

  A "connected farmhouse'' in  Windham, Maine . The barn dates from the late 18th Century. The house itself was built in three stages during the 19th Century while the unconnected garage was a 20th-Century addition. All doors of the structure are visible in this view from the south side, where sun would melt accumulated snow and ice. Following the 20th-Century outbreak of  Dutch elm disease  only one  American elm  remains of the line that provided summer shade along the southern and western sides of the building.

A "connected farmhouse'' in Windham, Maine. The barn dates from the late 18th Century. The house itself was built in three stages during the 19th Century while the unconnected garage was a 20th-Century addition. All doors of the structure are visible in this view from the south side, where sun would melt accumulated snow and ice. Following the 20th-Century outbreak of Dutch elm disease only one American elm remains of the line that provided summer shade along the southern and western sides of the building.

"Yankees traditionally build porches that will sag after a decade, and tack them onto houses built to stand a century. …New England is a harsh climate not only for crops but for neighbors and porches as well. Any flagging of morale – any passing of days skulking indoors in a state of depression…any slacking of righteousness – and down goes the porch.''

-- From Three Farms, by Mark Kramer

William Morgan: A back-of-beyond town in New Hampshire

1kens.jpg

Union Church, Town Hall, and Congregational Church, Kensington, N.H.

-- All photos by William Morgan

Despite the grand-sounding name, there's not much to see in Kensington, in southeastern New Hampshire. "Downtown" Kensington is just a wide place in the road, with a cluster of two churches and the town hall. Many Granite State towns were named not for places back in the mother country, but for members of Parliament, in this case, 1st Baron Kensington.

The town library, a small late-Victorian gem, is some distance away, next to the elementary school (104 students in kindergarten through 5th grade), while the Bell Hill Schoolhouse, built in 1839, and the North School, built in  1842,  now unused brick boxes, were erected  farther out in the country to serve the scattered populace. No doubt, there is a country store-cum-filling-station at a crossroads somewhere else in the town.

  The Union Church, built in 1840, is a conservative mix of the late Georgian and Greek revival styles.   

The Union Church, built in 1840, is a conservative mix of the late Georgian and Greek revival styles.   

Kensington has just over 2,000 people spread out over 12 square miles. As is typical of northern New England, many people wanting to live here will have to commute  considerable distances to work – to Exeter, Portsmouth, Haverhill or even Boston. Yet, though only a stone's throw from Massachusetts, Kensington captures that back-of-beyond quality of rural New Hampshire. As in  much of the state, the forests are reclaiming what was open grazing land for two centuries or more.

  Gravestone of Henry Lamprey, who died May 12, 1764, aged 90.

Gravestone of Henry Lamprey, who died May 12, 1764, aged 90.

  Samuel Tucke's stone of 1843 is of slate, the stonecutter's name is inscribed at the bottom and the urn and weeping willow motifs are more sophisticated than the primitive winged head of the early stones.

Samuel Tucke's stone of 1843 is of slate, the stonecutter's name is inscribed at the bottom and the urn and weeping willow motifs are more sophisticated than the primitive winged head of the early stones.

5kens.jpg

There are almost no gravestones beyond the middle of the 19th Century, suggesting that the town's young people had migrated to Yankee mill towns or out West. One gets the inescapable feeling that Kensington is a place passed over.

William Morgan is an architectural historian and essayist. He is the author of  American Country Churches and The Abrams Guide to American House Styles, among other books. He  has taught at Princeton University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Louisville and his essays have appeared in numerous publications.

 

'Thrusting aside the soil'

  The Old Manse is an old house in Concord, Mass.,  famous for its  historical and literary associations.

The Old Manse is an old house in Concord, Mass.,  famous for its  historical and literary associations.

"I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over  my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation.  It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.''
 

--  Nathaniel Hawthorne,  from Mosses from an Old Manse

In 1842, the novelist   Nathaniel Hawthorne rented the Old Manse for $100 a year. He moved in with his wife, Transcendentalist Sophia Peabody, on July 9, 1842, as newlyweds and lived there for three years before  they were being evicted for not paying their rent.

Ms. Peabody had previously visited Concord and met Ralph Waldo Emerson while working on a bas-relief portrait medallion of his brother Charles, who had died in 1836. She praised the town to Hawthorne. Before the Hawthornes' arrival at the Manse, Henry David Thoreau created a vegetable garden for the couple.  In the upstairs room that Hawthorne used as his study, you can see  affectionate sentiments that the two etched into the window panes.

Llewellyn King: The case against mega-mergers is written in U.S. history

440px-I_Like_a_Little_Competition.jpg

 

A judge has green-lighted the $85 billion merger of Time Warner and AT&T. Unless the Trump administration appeals and wins on appeal, another behemoth will take the field.

This merger, it is assumed, will lead to a flurry of other mergers in communications. Witness Comcast’s $65 billion bid for Fox, topping Disney’s $52.4 billion offer.

This is heady stuff. The money on the table is enormous, in some cases dwarfing the economies of small countries.

Merging is an industry unto itself. A lot of people get very rich: They are investment bankers, arbitragers, lawyers, economists, accountants, publicists and opinion researchers. When really big money moves, some of it falls off the table into the willing hands of those who have managed the movement.

The fate of the real owners of these companies, the stockholders, is more doubtful after the initial run-up. The earlier merger of Time with Warner Communications is considered to have been disadvantageous for stockholders.

Another concern is the mediocre performance of conglomerates. The latest to have run into trouble is General Electric, which had managed to do well in many businesses until recently.

A more cautionary story is what happened to Westinghouse when it went whole hog into broadcasting and lost its footing in the electric generation businesses. This was spun off, sold to British Nuclear Fuels in 1997, then sold again to Toshiba and later went into bankruptcy.

From the 1950s, Westinghouse it bought and sold companies at a furious rate, until the core company itself was sold in favor of broadcasting. One of Westinghouse’s most successful chairmen, Bob Kirby, told me it was easier for him to buy or sell a company than to make a small internal decision.

In another pure financial play, a group of hedge funds bought Toys R Us and with the added debt, it failed.

In many things, big is essential in today’s economy. News organizations need substantial financial strength to be able to do the job. Witness the cost of covering the Quebec and Singapore summits. As Westinghouse proved by default, big construction needs big resources. That is indisputable.

When growth through acquisition becomes the modus operandi of a company, something has gone very wrong. The losers are the public and the customers. The new AT&T, if it comes about, will still need you and I to lift the receiver, watch its videos and subscribe to its bundles.

Recently, I was discussing the problems customers have with behemoth corporations on SiriusXM Radio's "The Morning Briefing with Tim Farley" when a listener tweeted that I hated big companies and their CEOs and loved big government.

Actually, I’d just spent a week with the CEOs of several companies, admirable people, and I don’t think government should be any bigger than needs be. I certainly don’t think government should perform functions that can be better performed in the private sector.

The problem is size itself.

When any organization gets too big, it begins to get muscle-bound, self-regarding. Although it might’ve been built on daring innovation, as many firms have been, supersized companies have difficulty in allowing new thinking, reacting nimbly and adopting innovative technologies and materials.

If large corporate entities were as nimble as small ones, the automobile companies would’ve become the airplane manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s. They had the money, the manufacturing know-how and the engineering talent. They lacked the vision. It was easier to be rent-takers in the production and sale of automobiles.

Likewise, it’s incredible that FedEx was able to conquer the delivery business when another delivery system, Western Union, was up and running. But Western Union was big, smug and monopolistic. They had the resources and an army of staff delivering telegrams.

Companies like Alphabet (Google’s owner) snap up start-ups as soon as they are proven. That snuffs out the creativity early, even if it wasn’t meant to, and makes Google even more dominant. I would argue too big for its own good -- and for ours.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.  He is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

  The epicenter of merger mania -- Wall Street, with the New York Stock Exchange draped with the flag.

The epicenter of merger mania -- Wall Street, with the New York Stock Exchange draped with the flag.

 

 

 

They don't do it for the money

 The New Hampshire State House, in Concord.

The New Hampshire State House, in Concord.

"The fact that a New Hampshire legislator's position is not seen as a career or a way of supporting a family has meant that it draws women. At times, I think men who might be looking for a paid career have known that they couldn't make one out of serving in the legislature. So there's a little more space for women.''

-- Maggie Hassan, now U.S. senator and former New Hampshire governor.

New Hampshire state legislators are paid $100 a year.

  At the New Hampshire State House.

At the New Hampshire State House.

 


 

Briefly scary in spiffy Southboro

  "Entelodont,'' by Robert Shannahan, in the "Art on the Trails 2018'' show at the Beals Preserve, Southboro, Mass.  The show includes 18 outdoor art installations in the Beals Preserve.   The theme of the exhibition is "Unexpected Gestures''.  The juried works  were created and selected with the setting of the preserve in mind, contrasting and blending with its woods, meadows, trails and ponds. See artonthetrails.com for more information.

"Entelodont,'' by Robert Shannahan, in the "Art on the Trails 2018'' show at the Beals Preserve, Southboro, Mass.  The show includes 18 outdoor art installations in the Beals Preserve.   The theme of the exhibition is "Unexpected Gestures''.  The juried works  were created and selected with the setting of the preserve in mind, contrasting and blending with its woods, meadows, trails and ponds. See artonthetrails.com for more information.

Southboro is a rich Boston  outer suburb, with snob zoning and lots of open space. It is well known as the home of a prestigious boarding school,  St. Mark's School, founded in 1865 by Joseph Burnett. It also hosts  the nation's oldest junior boarding school, the Fay School, founded a year later  by Joseph Burnett's first cousin Harriet Burnett Fay.

  Unbustling downtown Southboro (aka Southborough).

Unbustling downtown Southboro (aka Southborough).

 

 

In N.H., mothers in opioid treatment struggle to keep children

By RACHEL GOTBAUM

For Kaiser Health News

Jillian Broomstein starts to cry when she talks about the day her newborn son Jeremy was taken from her by New Hampshire’s child welfare agency. He was 2 weeks old.

“They came into the house and said they would have to place him in foster care and I would get a call and we would set up visits,” she said. “It was scary.”

Broomstein, who was 26 at the time, had not used heroin for months and was on methadone treatment, trying to do what was safest for her child. The clinic social worker told her that since Jeremy would test positive for methadone when he was born, she would need to find safe housing or risk losing custody.

Broomstein moved in with a friend and her kids — but it turned out that friend had her own legal battles with the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families, known as DCYF. The friend’s home would not pass muster as “safe housing” because of that.

Since Broomstein grew up in foster care and had no family to take her in, Jeremy was taken from her. She had 12 months to try to get her son back or lose her parental rights permanently.

To get their children back from the foster care system in New Hampshire, parents struggling with addiction are required to be compliant in drug treatment and have a safe place to live. If they can’t find housing or if they relapse, the clock does not stop ticking.

“I cannot stress enough that 12 months is a really short window for somebody who’s in early recovery,” said Courtney Tanner, who runs Hope On Haven Hill, one of the few places in New Hampshire where pregnant women and new mothers can live with their children and get treated for addiction. But with just eight beds here, the waitlists can be long.

There are more than 430,000 children in foster care in the U.S., according to the latest government figures. The opioid crisis is definitely a factor in an increasing trend of more children being removed from the home, but the scope of the problem is hard to measure due to poor tracking.

New Hampshire has some of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the country. One of the fastest-growing groups of heroin users is women of childbearing age. In the past few years the number of children taken into state custody has more than doubled, according to DCYF. Last year, New Hampshire spent $36 million for foster care.

“Here in New Hampshire, what I have seen is a mom can be enrolled in this program and compliant in treatment and they are giving birth to a child and that child is still being removed and put into foster care,” said Tanner.

In 2012 state legislators made major budget cuts to DCYF — and those dollars have not been restored. Child welfare workers in New Hampshire have more than triple the caseloads than in many other states, according to the agency’s director Joseph Ripsam. Also as a result of the budget cuts, DCYF can only engage a family once case workers have opened a legal case of abuse and neglect. There’s little money to support parents before that happens.

“The result of that is … that more children coming into the foster care system that otherwise might not if we had the capacity to serve families more holistically up front,” said Ripsam.

After her son Jeremy was placed into foster care, Jillian Broomstein continued her methadone treatment and her parenting classes.

She was determined to get her son back. She finally got off a waiting list and got a bed at one of the residential treatment centers for young mothers. After a few months she was reunited with Jeremy. But she was told that her case was unusual.

“They said in court that it was an odd case that they gave me my child back so quickly,” Broomstein said. “It made me want to cry.”

“I knew it was going to be hard,” she said. “Not everybody tries to get their children back. A lot of people I’ve known just give up; they just resort back to drugs again.”

 

 

Invented figures and steam trains in once-war-torn Essex, Conn.

   "Peony Dress'' (painting), by Jennifer  Knaus, in the group show "The Imagined & Invented Figure,'' with Aris Moore and Jennifer McCandless, at the Melanie Carr Gallery, Essex, Conn., June 23-July 23.    The gallery says that Ms.  Knaus's  work consists of paintings and drawings that are "both beautiful and absurd, depicting women dressed in plant life in the style of 17th Century still lifes.'' Tourist information on Essex below.

 "Peony Dress'' (painting), by Jennifer  Knaus, in the group show "The Imagined & Invented Figure,'' with Aris Moore and Jennifer McCandless, at the Melanie Carr Gallery, Essex, Conn., June 23-July 23.

The gallery says that Ms. Knaus's work consists of paintings and drawings that are "both beautiful and absurd, depicting women dressed in plant life in the style of 17th Century still lifes.'' Tourist information on Essex below.

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From Wikipedia:

"The Essex Steam Train is one of the most famous and popular Essex attractions. The main station is located in Centerbrook, with other stations in Deep River, Chester, and Haddam. The regular train ride goes from Essex to Deep River and then the Becky Thatcher Riverboat takes the passengers up to the Haddam area. The Essex Clipper Dinner Train goes from Essex all the way up to Haddam.

"The Ivoryton Playhouse is a regional theater located in Essex's village of Ivoryton. The theater produces 8-12 plays and musicals each year.

"The Connecticut River Museum, located at the end of Main Street and right on the Connecticut River, is home to numerous river artifacts and is home to the Connecticut River Eagle Festival each year.''
 

  Essex Steam Train.

Essex Steam Train.

Don Pesci: 'A decent respect for reality and truth'

   Themis of Rhamnous , Attica, by the sculptor Chairestratos, c. 300 BCE

Themis of Rhamnous, Attica, by the sculptor Chairestratos, c. 300 BCE

Some time ago,  the Republican leader in the Connecticut State House, Themis Klarides, reminded a reporter that she was Greek. Her first name, she said, meant “justice.” rje

That was almost right. Themis was an ancient Greek Titaness, the “lady of good counsel,” a personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law and custom. The name Themis literally means “that which is put in place.” The symbols by which Themis is known are the scales of justice, tools in the ontological order that assure balance.

Balance is the baseline in the Greek cosmos according to which right order is measured. To know whether a thing is right and just – morally, legally, ethically, religiously, secularly, atheistically -- one must have more than a nodding acquaintance with reality. Idle dreaming is a fatal threat to right order. Political visions – modern politics is consumed with visions  that the ancient Greeks might have considered nightmares – are justifiable and practical only when they take into account the reality of life on the ground. Therefore, the best and most just politician is the one most solidly grounded in reality.

Klarides does not have her feet firmly planted in the clouds. She has more than a decent respect for reality and truth. And while she may be willing to suffer fools gladly, she is not willing to afford foolishness the same compassionate tolerance.

Klarides, along with Democratic  House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, appeared recently on Tom Dudchik’s Capitol Report.

Dudchik cited a report in The Boston Globe: “If all politics is local in the era of {the late U.S. House Speaker} Tip O’Neill, the reverse may be true under Trump.” He then turned to Aresimowicz and asked, “How big an issue are you going to make Trump?” And to Klarides, “What do you think about the issue?”

Aresimowicz: I’m not going to make that an issue…

Klarides: (scoffing) Oh, that’s not true (laughter from all).

Aresimowicz: We’re not Washington. We will listen to each other. We have to work with each other. When we can find common ground, we will. But now it’s about who has the best vision for the state of Connecticut, and who’s going to move it forward. Who do you want to align your political beliefs with? That’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Klarides: Well, I will tell you: I think this will be a fight between who is more unpopular, Governor {Dannel} Malloy or President Trump. Clearly, Governor Malloy is more unpopular. But I … It’s very frustrating to me to have to answer to what the President is doing or saying. If he does something I like, I say he is. If he does something I don’t like, I say I don’t. But the frustration here is this: Let’s remember something very clearly. There has been a Democrat governor for eight years, and there has been a Democrat controlled House and Senate for about 40 years. If Connecticut was booming, if businesses wanted to come here, if there were job after job and people had more money in their pockets – my good colleague (Aresimowicz) who I like very much – but our vision is a little bit different as to what the state should be doing – they [Democrats] would be pounding their chests, saying the following: We have brought this state back, and a Democrat governor and a Democrat controlled legislature [are responsible for the recovery]. The words Donald Trump would never be mentioned. But they can’t – because they have single-handedly ruined the state. And I do agree with him. We have done some bipartisan budgets. But as much as he and I like each other personally, the only reason we’ve done Democrat and Republican budgets is that there is only a four seat difference in the House and a tie in the Senate. That is the reality. It has nothing to do with the deficit. And that’s where we are.

The most important part of Klarides’s response to Dudchik’s question is, “And that’s where we are.”

A vision detached from reality does not produce a corresponding corrective reality; it produces havoc, disorder and the justifiable wrath of Themis, the “lady of good counsel.”

Reality is simply the sum of occurring events and their inevitable consequences. Perhaps the most banal expression in modern politics is “moving things forward,” rather as if it were possible to move present events into the past. The question that must be decided in the upcoming election is not a matter of the glittering vision we might prefer. Politics is the art of the possible. Forty years of Democrat hegemony in the General Assembly and two terms in office of one of the least popular governors in Connecticut history have made nightmares of political visions. Voters in Connecticut, Republicans hope, have awakened; they are hungry for real solutions to real problems.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Teaming up to fight straw pollution

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From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

NEWPORT, R.I. — In response to increased plastic waste on beaches and in the ocean, Green Drinks Newport recently partnered with Clean Ocean Access and The Last Straw to launch Strawless by the Sea, a collaborative campaign to eliminate plastic straws in the City-by-the-Sea.

Strawless by the Sea launched June 8, on World Oceans Day, and will continue through the summer. Bars, restaurants and other establishments in Newport, such as coffee shops and yacht clubs, are encouraged to make a voluntary commitment to stop offering plastic straws and stirrers, in an effort to stop plastic pollution at the source.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, more than 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the United States — enough to circle the earth 2.5 times. Plastic straws are used for 20 minutes on average, but take up to 500 years to break down.

“Last summer I was eating at an outdoor establishment on a very windy day and watched several plastic straws blow into the water,” said Kara DiCamillo, Green Drinks Newport organizer and Clean Ocean Access board member. “I’ve attended many beach cleanups hosted by Clean Ocean Access and knew that I’d be picking those same straws up one day.”

In Newport, straws are among the top 10 items found during beach cleanups, and can do so much harm to seabirds, turtles and other marine creatures. Clean Ocean Access (COA) staff and volunteers have picked more than 2,000 straws on local beaches during the past five years, and some 650 more have been collected by COA’s marina trash skimmers in Newport Harbor in just eight months.

“We are thrilled to see the community-led efforts to eradicate plastic straws, and this effort aligns perfectly with our successful two-year campaign for a plastic bag ordinance on Aquidneck and Conanicut islands,” said Dave McLaughlin, COA’s executive director and co-founder. “The spirit of our position for the plastic bag ordinance was to tickle more persuasion so that people start making better choices in their daily lives to eliminate single-use plastics and to switch to durable reusable alternatives. There are real cost savings for businesses and consumers and this initiative advances the efforts of the biggest islands in the Ocean State to lead by example that a thriving economy and a healthy economy go hand in hand.”

Restaurants can reduce the use of plastic straws by implementing a “straws upon request” policy, switching to paper straws or reusable straws, or by going completely “strawless.”

Tyler Bernadyn, a local hospitality professional who started The Last Straw, an internalized campaign to educate bartenders and their guests on the importance of recognizing and reducing plastic pollution, said he knows we can all do better.

“Seeing how many single-use straws and plastic cups are wasted during a single service and watching these same items wash up on our beaches and pollute our harbor really inspired me to start this initiative,” he said. “Being behind the bar, you have an opportunity to encourage change and help protect our most valuable resources here in Newport, which is our beaches and waterways.”

Several Newport-area establishments have joined Strawless by the Sea: Bannister’s Wharf Marina & Guest Rooms, Belle’s Café at the Newport Shipyard, Brix Restaurant at Newport Vineyards, The Clarke Cooke House, Fluke, Malt, Mission, Newport Dinner Cruises, Scales & Shells, TSK, Winner Winner, and Taproot Brewing Co. at Newport Vineyards (scheduled to open June 20).

Environmental groups and local businesses have also backed Strawless by the Sea, including Bowen’s Wharf, Discover Newport, Sail Newport, Sailors for the Sea, The Ocean Project, and World Oceans Day.

“As an individual, refusing a single-use plastic straw in our bars and restaurants in Newport is the easiest and simplest way to take action to address plastic pollution that is in our waters and on our beaches,” DiCamillo said.

Jim Hightower: Trump's bid to use Postal Service to hit Amazon may backfire big time

  Photo by Chensiyuan    Close up of the James A. Farley Post Office,  in Manhattan. Read the inscription over the columns:  " Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds''

Photo by Chensiyuan

Close up of the James A. Farley Post Office,  in Manhattan. Read the inscription over the columns: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds''

Via OtherWords.org

The U.S. Postal Service has 30,000 outlets serving every part of America. It employs 630,000 people in good middle-class jobs. And it proudly delivers letters and packages clear across the country for a pittance.

It’s a jewel of public-service excellence. Therefore, it must be destroyed.

Such is the fevered logic of laissez-faire-headed corporate supremists like the billionaire Koch brothers and the right-wing politicians who serve them.

This malevolent gang of wrecking-ball privatizers includes such prominent Trumpsters as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (a former Wall Street huckster from Goldman Sachs), and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (a former corporate-hugging Congress critter from South Carolina).

Both were involved in setting up Trump’s shiny new task force to remake our U.S. Postal Service. It’s like asking two foxes to remodel the hen house.

Trump himself merely wanted to take a slap at his political enemy, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, by jacking up the prices the Postal Service charges to deliver Amazon’s packages. The cabal of far-right corporatizers, however, saw Trump’s temper tantrum as a golden opportunity to go after the Postal Service itself.

Trump complained about the Postal Service not charging Amazon enough for mailing packages. But instead of simply addressing the matter, the task force was trumped-up with an open-ended mandate to evaluate, dissect, and “restructure” the people’s mail service — including carving it up and selling off the parts.

Who’d buy the pieces? For-profit shippers like FedEx, of course. But here’s some serious irony for you: The one outfit with the cash and clout to buy our nation’s whole postal infrastructure and turn it into a monstrous corporate monopoly is none other than… Amazon itself.

I’d prefer my neighborhood post office, thanks. To help stop this sellout, become part of the Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service: www.AGrandAlliance.org.

Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown