'Me, too' in the struggle

  “Me, too’’ (oil), by Kat Masella, in the show “The Personal Is Political,’’ at the Hess Gallery, at Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., through Feb. 20. The show is named after a 1969 essay by Carol Hanisch. The gallery says: “Each piece tells a different story of female political and social struggle, with the underlying hope of inspiring others to do their own part in working towards equality.’’

“Me, too’’ (oil), by Kat Masella, in the show “The Personal Is Political,’’ at the Hess Gallery, at Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., through Feb. 20. The show is named after a 1969 essay by Carol Hanisch. The gallery says: “Each piece tells a different story of female political and social struggle, with the underlying hope of inspiring others to do their own part in working towards equality.’’

Thanks for the extermination

  Engraving depicting the colonial assault on the    Narragansett    Indians’ fort in the    Great Swamp Fight   , in what is now the State of Rhode Island, in December 1675. It was a massacre, in which about 600 members of the tribe were killed.

Engraving depicting the colonial assault on the Narragansett Indians’ fort in the Great Swamp Fight, in what is now the State of Rhode Island, in December 1675. It was a massacre, in which about 600 members of the tribe were killed.

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for -- annually, not oftener -- if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

― Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Thanksgiving through the years

  The    Old Ship Church    (1681), in Hingham, Mass., the only surviving 17th-Century Puritan meeting house in the U.S., and the oldest church building in continuous ecclesiastical use in the nation

The Old Ship Church (1681), in Hingham, Mass., the only surviving 17th-Century Puritan meeting house in the U.S., and the oldest church building in continuous ecclesiastical use in the nation

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

Different species of Thanksgivings. In my past, first there were the long, far-too-complicated and heavy feasts of my childhood, with my four siblings, parents, two or three grandparents, and sometimes a few other relatives from outside our nuclear family, in our house on a hill. It seemed to always be gray and windy that day, with the brown oak leaves swirling. A dull headache after the interminable meal.

Then, after the grandparent generation disappeared, the gatherings shrank, and we often ate in restaurants and sometimes included single friends who may or may not have been lonely. Mediocre food but a crisp couple of hours and it was over.

Much later came our kids and the gatherings grew again for a few years.

Now it’s back to small and quiet as kids and others disperse or disappear. But with holidays, as with so many other things, less can be more. I remember with particular fondness the very quiet and mellow Thanksgiving my wife and I had in the dining room of a hotel in 1975 followed by a nice walk in the old streets around Rittenhouse Square, in Philadelphia.

  Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.

Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.

The lyrics and haunting melody of “We Gather Together,’’ the Thanksgiving hymn, although they can be traced back to the late 16th Century as a Dutch Protestant song, have always evoked to me New England’s Puritan origins. “Shining City on a Hill’’ and all that. Two cheers for Calvinism.

1. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

2. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

3. We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Linda Gasparello: As in 1986, president has tainted Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was usually a happy time for the elegant British-American broadcaster Alistair Cooke, whose “Letter from America” series on BBC Radio 4 captivated his millions of listeners for over half a century.

Cooke summed up his talent as “associating something quite tiny with something big. In other words, just looking at the way humans behave.” Every week, in a calming and confiding tone, he would discuss topics ranging from intrigue in the corridors of power in Washington to the significance to Americans of serving cranberry sauce with turkey on Thanksgiving.

But Cooke, in his Nov. 28, 1986 broadcast, had an unhappy story to tell “on the most American of American festivals and the one least tarnished with marketing tinsel.”

Thanksgiving that year, for Cooke, was tarnished by the Iran-Contra Affair, a secret U.S. arms deal that traded missiles and other arms to free some Americans held hostage by terrorists in Lebanon, but also used funds from the arms deal to support armed conflict in Nicaragua. The deal and the ensuing political scandal threatened to bring down the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

“Really the events of the past week have come at us – come at him – with such a tumbling clatter that it would be pointless of me at this stage to try and arrange their chronology. When I first heard about the incredible – every other senator and congressman has been working the word ‘incredible’ overtime – transfer of $30 million by Israel through a Swiss bank to be passed on to the motley band of Nicaraguan democrats, mercenaries and the relics of dictator Somoza’s bully boys, whom the president insists on calling freedom fighters, I found myself verbally paralyzed – a very rare condition with me – and falling back time and again on ‘incredible,’ spoken like a tolling bell,” he said in his broadcast.

Cooke, who was admired for taking the hysteria out of heated subjects, was outspoken on “Irangate,” just as he had been in the McCarthy era, which resulted in his telephone being tapped for two years.

“Two questions come up now, the answers to which will decide if the United States is to regain any credibility with its allies, with the Arab world, not to mention with any Soviet missions they have to deal with. One is the function and the respectability of the National Security Council – an institution set up only after the Second World War, which too often has quarreled with the secretaries of state and defense and, under this administration, evaded and deceived them, and possibly the president, himself.

“The other, more pressing, grave question turns on the honesty of the president, himself. How much did he really know and sanction of these incredible goings-on? It’s the same question whose stony answer brought down President Nixon and we shan’t know the truth until the congressional hearings get underway. They have great powers to subpoena the highest officers of the administration and get at the truth, as we saw with the Ervin Senate committee that probed into Watergate,” he said.

Reagan was hounded by the press, and there were three investigations into the scandal – one by the Tower Commission (led by Texas Senator John Tower), which Reagan himself appointed; congressional hearings in 1987, which were televised nationally; and an eight-year investigation, launched by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, in which 14 people were charged, including National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and Vice Adm. John Poindexter, his successor in that position, and Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council.

Ending his broadcast, Cooke said “the sauce that really soured our appetite” for the turkey that Thanksgiving was “the knowledge that, for the moment, the United States has no declared foreign policy that either friends or enemies can believe in.”

If Cooke were alive – he died in March 2004, less than a month after he filed his last “Letter” -- he would’ve been outspoken about what amounts to President Trump’s pardoning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This Thanksgiving, we would’ve heard him say gently and mellifluously that in Trump’s America, the incredible is true.

Linda Gasparello is producer and co-host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. Her email is whchronicle@gmail.com. She is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Bruce Mallory/Quixada Moore-Vissing/Michele Holt-Shannon: Fueling civic engagement in N.H. through listening

  1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the classic play set in a small New Hampshire town, perhaps based on Peterboro.

1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the classic play set in a small New Hampshire town, perhaps based on Peterboro.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org)

New Hampshire is known not only for its rugged mountains, rocky 19-mile shoreline, one of the largest legislative bodies in the world and its in-your-face Live Free or Die license plate motto. It is also home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the Free State Movement, more voters who register as “unaffiliated” (independent) than either Republican or Democrat, one of the highest income and educational attainment levels in the country, one of the lowest child poverty rates, the second-highest opioid overdose death rate, and in recent years, the fastest growing rate of income inequality, according to federal data.

New Hampshire is one of five states with a median age greater than 42. The rate of population growth among immigrants matched the U.S. average of 9% from 2010 to 2016, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis of U.S. census data. If New Hampshire had an official state dinosaur, it would be Barney, reflecting the purple nature of our political culture. We currently have a solidly Democratic Congressional delegation and a solidly Republican Legislature and governor. With no sales or income tax and 234 discrete municipal entities, New Hampshire is a highly decentralized state with a long tradition of local control, reliance on local property taxes to fund public services and suspicion of those who are “from away.”

As we have reported in the Civic Health Index, the state ranks relatively high in civic participation, although patterns of inequity are evident with respect to gender, social class, educational level and age. The tradition of annual town meetings to set municipal and school district budgets continues in smaller communities, but the number of residents who attend and the participatory nature of the meetings have declined significantly in recent years thanks to their increasingly contentious nature and changes in state laws that have incentivized written balloting over deliberation and voice votes.

In short, New Hampshire is a place of both traditions and contradictions. Though historically New Hampshire’s demographics have been primarily white, the state is becoming increasingly diverse with respect to racial and ethnic identities.

There are communities with significant wealth adjacent to towns with widespread poverty and devastating rates of addiction. As a report from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies described it, there are increasingly “two New Hampshires,” one made up of rural communities with scarce public infrastructure, aging populations and shrinking employment opportunities, and one comprising more densely populated areas characterized as more diverse, metropolitan, economically vibrant and attractive to millennials and their young families.

About New Hampshire Listens

These distinctions and contradictions have provided fertile ground for New Hampshire Listens, which we founded in 2009 in response to the growing polarization of political and civic discourse, the severe economic challenges of the Great Recession that were causing disruption and strife in many communities across the state, and a growing consensus among community leaders and activists that new approaches to community problem-solving were sorely needed. Inspired by the success of Portsmouth Listens, our predecessor and prototype established in 1998, the mission of NH Listens is to help people talk and act together to create communities that work for everyone.

New Hampshire Listens is a civic-engagement program within the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, but derives its funding primarily through grants or contracts with organizations and municipalities in exchange for engagement support. Since 2010, we have hosted conversations in more than 85 towns and cities, engaging some 4,500 New Hampshire residents in small groups for facilitated dialogue on a wide range of issues (including land use, community-police relations, public school reform, youth engagement and substance-use disorders, as well as other topics).

We support a growing group of Local Listens affiliate organizations led by community leaders in diverse locations across the state. Local Listens affiliates are locally run public engagement groups that are independent of NH Listens but commit to following our core principles, which include bringing people together from all walks of life; providing time for in-depth, informed conversations; respecting differences as well as seeking common ground; and achieving outcomes that lead to informed community solutions. Local Listens groups work within their communities to address regional and statewide challenges and create their own public engagement approaches or draw from NH Listens open-source online tools and templates.

NH Listens is “issue agnostic” and committed to impartial facilitation as a third-party convener whose role is to help others have productive, civil and inclusive conversations. NH Listens collects data on key research interests in the participatory democracy field reflected by our three main goals: engaged and equitable communities, increased participation in public life (especially for those who have historically been disenfranchised), and improved community problem-solving.

As a civic-engagement resource located in a university, we also work with students and faculty through on-campus dialogue to address such complex issues as free speech, gender and racial discrimination, behavioral health, postsecondary admissions policies and the challenge of affordability. For example, in the 2017-18 academic year, we designed and conducted a series of dialogues for the faculty and staff of the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire focused on creating an equitable and just community, in classrooms, department offices, internship sites and research centers. We are now partnering with the Department of Communication’s Civil Discourse Lab to support undergraduate curriculum and train students in facilitation for public conversations. For the past several years, we have worked closely with the associate vice president for community, equity, and diversity to design campus-wide dialogues around inclusion and equity, both as a proactive strategy and in response to specific incidents of identity-based harassment or threat.

Conceptual frameworks and core values

We have been inspired by two particular frameworks articulated by colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School and MIT’s School of Urban Studies and Planning. Archon Fung, dean of the Kennedy School, in his 2015 article on rationales for increased participation in governance, emphasized the importance of legitimacy, effectiveness and social justice. Fung argues that, “the strongest driver of participatory innovations has been the quest to enhance legitimacy. The hope is that such innovations can increase legitimacy by injecting forms of direct citizen participation into the policymaking process because such participation elevates perspectives that are more closely aligned with those of the general public and because that participation offsets democratic failures in the conventional representative policymaking process.”

Likewise, effectiveness is enhanced when more, and more diverse, voices are engaged in the processes of community problem-solving. Fung claims that, “By reorganizing themselves to incorporate greater citizen participation, public agencies can increase their effectiveness by drawing on more information and the distinctive capabilities and resources of citizens.” Finally, social justice aims are approximated, “when participatory governance reforms successfully incorporate people or views that were previously excluded, [thus increasing] equality by enabling them to advocate more effectively for goods and services, rights, status, and authority.”

NH Listens has increasingly placed equity at the center of our design strategies and community organizing as we work with local and state leaders on specific initiatives. We cultivate approaches to racially equitable engagement in partnership with Everyday Democracy, based in Hartford, Conn. Everyday Democracy works nationally to conduct dialogue and engagement with an explicit “racial equity lens” that acknowledges how effective community policy and practice must pay careful attention to the ways in which historic and contemporary racism affect decisions, and to design engagement to ensure people of color have voice and power at the decision-making table. As New Hampshire has seen increased income inequality and become more ethnically and racially diverse, we have explicitly emphasized the value of racial equity in our work.

To this end, we have established a statewide network of “NH Listens Fellows” who have expanded the range of social identities, geographic representation and expert capacities of our staff. These Fellows work on specific projects depending on topic, availability and funding sources. We have also partnered with the Endowment for Health in New Hampshire, a foundation concerned with health and health disparities, over the past several years to offer intensive workshops for leaders across the state and across sectors who are in positions to create more equitable and inclusive communities and organizations. Understanding their own identities, the effects of implicit bias and structural racism, and their responsibilities and opportunities as leaders who hold power and privilege is at the core of this ongoing effort.

The second framework that affirms our commitments to more equitable and robust civic engagement comes from Ceasar McDowell at the Civic Design Lab at MIT. McDowell identifies six types of “conversations essential for democracy.” These include:

1. Framing, or creating a shared understanding among stakeholders of the definition and elements of the problems or challenges to be addressed;

2. Ideation, or the generation of possible solutions to those challenges;

3. Prioritizing, in which value choices are deliberated and weighed;

4. Selecting, which requires finding some common ground among participants to agree on a path forward;

5. Implementing, when talk becomes action and participants work with decision-makers and those in authority to put recommendations in place; and

6. Monitoring, to be sure that those who are implementing the outcomes of engagement processes are held accountable.

We have found that these essential elements mirror the arc of the engagement and public conversation processes developed by NH Listens over the years. The majority of effort we put into achieving our mission looks more like community organizing and mobilizing than face-to-face deliberation per se. Bringing people together for meaningful and inclusive deliberation requires intensive work with community partners over time. From the first conversation with potential partners, our purpose is to facilitate, not prescribe, possible solutions or ultimate selection of a path forward. We bring an array of tools; community partners select the ones that make the most sense for their specific circumstances. In the past few years, we have increased attention to coalition-building among diverse local partners and organizations as a necessary condition for meaningful and effective engagement. We have found that it is especially important for a third-party convener to support coalition-building processes in order to avoid territorial and competitive behavior that often is associated with well-meaning efforts led by an existing community organization or municipal entity.

All this is not meant to imply that we are neutral about our work. Being impartial about means and ends is not the same as being neutral about the essence of engagement and deliberation. We are deeply committed to democratic practices that include all voices and amplify those that have been traditionally ignored or suppressed. It is not unusual for local organizers to overlook the importance of bringing diverse and previously disenfranchised voices to the table, not due to willful neglect but more often due to a lack of experience and a certain degree of myopia when it comes to taking seriously the views and experiences of those with whom they are unfamiliar.

NH Listens / Concord

We have found that democratic practices that emphasize equity in both input and outcomes lead to more legitimate and effective solutions for everyone. For example, beginning in 2018, NH Listens has been working with a city in the northern reaches of the state (“north of the notches”) to support broad community engagement regarding the future of the community’s public schools. The district is fast approaching a significant funding crisis, as enrollments decline (typical of economically challenged rural communities) and the state’s education appropriations continue to decline.

The situation strikes several deep nerves related to community identity, local taxes, educating and retaining the next generation, and core values rooted in the past and present as well as hopes for the future. It is imperative that all voices be heard in the engagement processes being used to find a path forward. Elderly people on fixed incomes, employers, students and their parents, educators, newcomers as well as multi-generation residents, those with low incomes as well as the wealthy all have a stake in the conversation and its outcomes. On the output side, solutions will need to address the needs and interests of all stakeholders, especially those residents who depend most on public education to open doors to greater economic and social opportunity.

As impartial conveners, we must set aside our own biases about preferred solutions and work to be sure that all voices are heard, especially those that have historically been silenced because of weak economic power or low social standing. And we must work to frame the conversations in collaboration with our local partners to ensure that recommendations for action take into consideration the needs of all members of the community.

Is NH Listens making a difference?

Skeptics could point out that the degree of polarization and uncivil discourse in New Hampshire (like other places) has only increased since we began nine years ago. Incidents of racial harassment among both youth and adults have increased, particularly since November 2016. We have witnessed a significant increase in requests from schools and communities for assistance in organizing difficult conversations about race and racism over the past two years. According to a recent report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Hampshire’s opioid crisis has gotten worse, with overdose deaths tripling from 2013 to 2016. Public schools in smaller cities and many rural communities face constant threats to their fiscal survival as property tax payers fight over teacher contracts and addressing capital expenses.

At the same time, in a range of efforts we have supported, we can document qualitative improvements in the willingness of community leaders to take on the most pressing challenges, including: the need to provide affordable and safe housing; the critical importance of engaging youth in ways that make them feel respected and valued; the benefits of providing accessible and high-quality early education to all young children; the need to strengthen collaborations among schools, families and community leaders; and the urgency of ensuring respectful relationships between local police forces and everyday citizens, especially youth, residents of color and New Americans. These are examples of topics we have worked on at the local, regional, and state level in recent years. In each case, we have seen that carefully framed and facilitated inclusive deliberation can lead to changes in practice and policy.

In the community of Pittsfield, N.H., NH Listens worked with the school and community to create a series of dialogues about school improvement. Pittsfield had been ranked one of the lowest-performing schools in the state in 2010, and there was low community pride and disengagement about its schools. In 2011, NH Listens trained local facilitators who then engaged over 100 Pittsfield stakeholders, including students, parents, community members, teachers, school administrators, municipal and business leaders about how we can make Pittsfield a better place for everyone to live, learn, work and play. From these community conversations and other engagement activities, school leaders compiled recommendations for school change into a grant application to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and Pittsfield was awarded $2 million to undergo a shift toward student-centered learning.

What resulted were school policy changes such as restorative justice as a disciplinary measure, a formal school-funded position of “school-community liaison,” who works to connect the schools and the community, and a new middle and high school governance body that works to shape school policy alongside the school board. There were also measurable shifts within the community. The Pittsfield Youth Workshop, an afterschool drop-in center for local youth, created a program called Pittsfield Listens, which was an affiliate of NH Listens and committed specifically to engaging youth, parents, community members about education and youth issues in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield Listens established a civic-education series to inform community members about how to use local government structures such as the school board and town select board, and worked with the Chamber of Commerce to encourage candidates running for local office to engage in small group dialogue with community members about their stance on issues in Pittsfield, rather than delivering their stump speeches on a microphone at the community. Pittsfield has recently been written about by the Atlantic and other news outlets of a national model of school transformation. The U.S. Department of Education sent staff to Pittsfield to observe its success and the NH Education commissioner and governor also paid visits to learn from the Pittsfield schools. What Pittsfield exemplifies is that when communities and institutions are willing to dive into deep, deliberative engagement processes, such processes can stimulate community change at multiple levels.

Such changes in practice and policy typically reflect the common ground that emerges when people come together to solve the problems they face. When community members use deliberative tools to explore values, data and alternative pathways, solutions are generated that reflect concrete needs and circumstances, not ideological positions or the influence of special interests. These findings corroborate the emerging national conversation advanced by James and Deborah Fallows in Our Towns and the concept of Constitutional localism described recently by Mike Hais, Doug Ross and Morley Winograd in Healing American Democracy: Going Local, and advanced by Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and others on both the right and left who see that bottom-up approaches are critical at a time when faith in top-down solutions has gone missing.

We also have seen that the call for civic and civil engagement through deliberative democratic processes is being advanced by leaders in New Hampshire who are aligned with philanthropic, nonprofit, corporate and government sectors. Through participation in various NH Listens initiatives, these leaders are more likely to prioritize civil discourse, strengthened civic infrastructure and the enfranchisement of those whose voices have often not been heard. We don’t take credit for these shifts, but we do know that when everyday citizens, stakeholders and local and state leaders together experience authentic and sustained dialogue, they consistently ask for more opportunities such as those we design and regularly cite the value of this approach to strengthening public life.

Looking to the future

Given the nature of our mission, NH Listens is more responsive than proactive in deciding what community challenges to address. We do not decide what is ailing communities nor what communities need in order to do better by way of public life. We help communities respond to the challenges they identify and define. In that sense, it is not easy to predict which issues or topics we might engage with in the coming years. However, we can see some constant threads that are likely to run through the work in the future.

We place value in youth and schools for several key reasons. Other than public libraries, public schools are one of the few open public spaces in many communities, particularly in the more rural locations our state. It is critically important to all communities, and to the preservation of democracy in general, for youth and young adults to feel they belong and that their voices count. Efforts to support youth and young adult engagement as volunteers, members of governance boards, voters and leaders will be core to the work of deliberation and community development. Second, public schools are very likely to continue to be contested spaces, whether the issue is what should be taught, how it should be taught, who should teach, what kinds of facilities are needed and how (and how much) to pay for public education. We expect to be active in helping schools and their communities form effective, close partnerships for the foreseeable future. Much of this work will be about weighing the need for expert judgment on the part of educators with the values and priorities of everyday citizens who have the biggest stake in what their children learn and how they learn it.

There is interest in taking the NH Listens experience to neighboring states. We are now exploring what that could look like with colleagues in Maine and Vermont and perhaps the wider New England region. Each New England state is certainly unique in its culture and politics; for instance, as Harvard sociologists Kaufman and Kaliner argue in their 2011 Theory and Society article, New Hampshire’s low taxation and small government has attracted hunters, fishers, Boston commuters and motorcyclists, whereas Vermont’s progressive experimental colleges have impacted its left-leaning political activism ethos. Since the NH Listens approach encourages listening to communities and responding to the issues communities identify, such flexibility could be helpful in cultivating engagement networks in other New England states. However, marked similarities across northern New England (decentralized governance, changing demographics, economic struggles, predominantly rural population patterns, uneven access to infrastructure) suggest that the lessons we have learned in New Hampshire would be useful to others in similar contexts. Concerns about youth, public education, substance-use disorders, housing, economic dislocation, welcoming immigrants and transportation, for example, are shared across the region. Authentic and inclusive engagement emphasizing participatory democratic practices can be one way to address these concerns.

Finally, we expect that the need for continued attention to racial, social and political equity will be at the heart of our work. Inequality in income and opportunity are likely to increase in the years ahead, fueling the polarization, fear and resentment that has grown in recent years. We believe that face-to-face conversations that are locally framed and focused on finding a pragmatic common ground will be key to creating communities that work for everyone. Civic engagement practices that reflect local values and democratic ideals will be an important part of both healing past wounds and designing more inclusive futures. The answers lie within us and our communities. We just have to ask the right questions and be willing to have the courageous conversations necessary to find our way forward.

Bruce Mallory is professor emeritus, former provost/executive vice president of UNH and co-founder of NH Listens. He is currently senior adviser to NH Listens. Quixada Moore-Vissing is project manager, Everyday Democracy and NH Listens Fellow. Michele Holt-Shannon is co-founder and director of NH Listens.

David Warsh: Romney for president in 2020?

  Utah Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.

Utah Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.

A thoughtful reader wrote last week to remind me of a column I wrote in September 2013.  He had made a note then to revisit Creating a New Responsibility five years on, after the 2018 mid-term elections.

First he quoted the last paragraph of the piece,

And in the longer term?  My guess is that Tea Party dissidents will lose ground in  the midterm elections next year; that the GOP will split in the 2016 campaign and that a Democrat will be elected president; that in 2018 the Tea Party will further fade. And by 2020, the Republican governors who are successful in implementing the Affordable Care Act will be running for president, strongly, on the strength of their records.

And then he wrote,

Things haven’t played out exactly that way, but the Tea Party is fading in many respects.  (To what degree is Trumpism a version of Tea Partyism?)  But assuming the [BostonGlobe isn’t over-editorializing its news, ACA is becoming more popular, and you may well be right regarding 2020.

It is very useful to be reminded of one’s hits and misses.  I immediately thought of “The Accidental President, ‘‘ a column I wrote 10 days after the 2016 election. That remains the way I understand the outcome of that dismal campaign, despite Hillary Clinton’s determination to pin her defeat on Vladimir Putin instead of the Congressional Republicans who forced FBI Director James Comey to write his famous letter.

I thought, too, about “Double or Nothing’’ from last summer, in which I declared my conviction that Trump would not run again. With a hat-tip to EP’s faithful copy editor, who first voiced the thought, I stand by that one, too.  It is even more apparent now that Donald Trump can’t hope to win re-election. He should take his marbles and go home to obloquy in New York.

(The copy editor now believes Trump will run again, having become addicted to the attention. He may be right, but in either case, as long as the Democrats can field a candidate, there will be no second term.)

And 2020?  With Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the running, the only Republican governor who fits the bill is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, now representing Utah in the Senate, the man who initiated the approach to the insuring the uninsured that, under President Obama, became the Affordable Care Act. A hat-tip to Utah for that, too.  Certainly Vice President Mike Pence is not what I had in mind, even before he was permanently soiled by Trump.

Could Romney defeat Pence in a lightning primary season?  It is anybody’s guess. Who knows what the Republican Party will stand for in the future?  Who knows who the Democrats will put up?  Just a reminder that, for all the talk about how Trump has changed the GOP completely, there exists at least one pathway by which it could change again.

David Warsh, a Somerville, Mass.-based columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

Jack Clarke: Fossil-fuel burning, not wind turbines, is the huge threat to birds


Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

President Trump recently criticized “windmills” as a source of energy, claiming: “They kill so many birds. You look underneath some of those windmills, it’s like a killing field.”

All this while he attempts to prop up a fading coal industry that is responsible for killing 24 times as many birds as wind energy.

But do wind turbines really “kill so many birds?” It’s one of the most commonly repeated criticisms of wind power: that they are giant Cuisinarts for birds.

Last winter, Trump’s secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, told an oil and gas industry audience that wind facilities kill 750,000 birds a year. Yet his own Fish & Wildlife Service put the estimate at less than half that number. Meanwhile, Zinke is doing away with century-old protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality. In contrast to the 5 billion birds killed annually as a result of encounters with a variety of hazards ranging from domestic cats to building glass, turbines are a much smaller risk.

The greatest threat to birds today is climate change. Of Massachusetts’s 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43 percent are “highly vulnerable” to its impacts.

Climate change produces warmer temperatures that alter the length of seasons, interrupting traditional migration patterns. It also causes accelerated sea-level rise and stronger ocean storms, which wreak havoc on coastal bird habitats, drowning out the nesting and foraging areas for species such as the federally protected roseate tern and piping plover.

The impacts of climate change on birds will become even more severe unless we reduce our over-dependence on fossil fuels, which are clogging the atmosphere and heating up the planet.

We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and producing more renewable energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable technologies available.

Today, the U.S. wind energy industry is primarily comprised of land-based turbines. As the third-most densely populated state, Massachusetts isn’t a very hospitable place for big, terrestrial wind-energy development — we’re just too crowded. So, we look offshore where there’s more space, fewer people, and stronger winds.

Europe can boast a 24-year history of successful offshore wind-energy development, with more than 4,000 turbines in the water. In comparison, the United States has just five operating structures, planted in the seabed off Block Island, R.I.

Bay State voters support offshore wind, as a WBUR/MassINC September poll showed, with an overwhelming 80 percent of those tallied saying we should rely more on wind for our electricity.

Consistent with this opinion, Beacon Hill lawmakers recently passed legislation that will hopefully result in at least 3,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy, as we work to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

In response, the Vineyard Wind company aims to build the first U.S. industrial-scale wind farm 35 miles south of Cape Cod. Its 80-100 turbines would remove 2 million tons annually of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, in addition to thousands of tons of poisonous nitrogen and sulfur oxides. That’s good for people, birds, and wildlife.

For this wind facility to be viable, however, it must first demonstrate that it will pose no significant threat to the marine life and environment in and around the project area.

That doesn’t mean the wind facility can have absolutely no affect on the region’s wildlife and habitat, as any development of energy will entail some level of impact. However, the project must be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage, and anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated. That’s the sequence to success and the review standard for this project and those in the future.

If Vineyard Wind gets it right, others will follow as leases in two more deep-water areas off Massachusetts and Rhode Island have been granted, with a fourth sale scheduled next month.

And while Mass Audubon supports the deployment of renewable wind-energy projects off our shores, that commitment can’t and will not be at any cost. With appropriate design, siting, and mitigation, the industry can grow and prosper as Massachusetts does its part to combat the devastating impacts of global climate change.

Birds, other wildlife, and people will all reap the benefits.

Jack Clarke is the director of public policy and government relations at the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Don Pesci: A measles epidemic of tolling gantries coming in Conn.?


Hey, working suburban women who voted for the toll guy for governor -- get out your wallets. Multiple reports in Connecticut’s media advise us that Lamont eked out a win over Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski with some encouragement from suburban women, many of whom hold down jobs to which they travel – by car, not by largely empty FastTrack-powered buses.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Elect Ned Lamont was warm on tolls – but the tolls, working suburban women and others were told, would be levied only on out-of-state trucks, a dubious constitutional gambit. Rhode Island, the state from which Lamont lifted the idea, is now embroiled in law suits on the issue.

A little more than a week after the election, it was reported by the indispensable Yankee Institute that a new study commissioned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation calls for 82 tolling gantries on Connecticut highways. A note provided on a map furnished by the study authors reads, comfortingly, “Locations are for preliminary planning purposes only.”

The mapped major transportation arteries are pock-marked with red dots (see map above)— gantry locations that make the state look as if it had come down with an advanced case of measles. In a somewhat sour note, the study remarks that “fairness” in toll collections should be paramount: “Fairness – tolls should be set to ensure collection of revenues from CT as well as out-of-state auto and truck trips.” But fairness, Connecticut’s taxpayers will understand lies, like beauty and truth, in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking of fairness, Yankee notes wryly, “The study was previously kept under wraps by DOT Commissioner James Redeker and was the subject of a complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission by Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. In July, Redeker cited the results of the study in testimony before the state Bond Commission but refused to release the study until today.” Len Suzio is no longer in the Senate, having been purged by politicians he has in the past unmercifully annoyed.

The Connecticut DOT has not yet produced a study showing the number of times tolling limited to a targeted subset has not, sooner or later, trickled down to a much broader base. And in fact, that is the case with nearly all taxes. The federal income tax began as a temporary tax on millionaires levied to pay for Civil War debt during the Lincoln administration. But in the course of time, the reinstituted income tax trickled down to non-millionaire working suburban women whose votes now have hoisted Lamont into a gubernatorial seat to be vacated in January by the most unpopular governor in the United States, Dannel Malloy, the author, along with a now revivified majority in the General Assembly, of two hefty tax increases.

If Connecticut’s onerous progressive tax system – which is the primary cause of budget instability – is ever to be reformed, the state might consider moving to a fair or flat tax in which every citizen in Connecticut pays the same rate and is therefore equally invested in state politics. The very rich, many of whom pay fewer taxes than their secretaries (see Warren Buffett on this), would pay the flat tax rate rather than shelter their assets through legalized chicanery, and the poor could be recompensed after having paid the tax. Collections would be simple, and large legal firms hired by the very rich to avoid paying crippling taxes would move on to more profitable pursuits.

Progressivism is little more than a political lure dangled before a credulous public to persuade them to vote for limitless spending that benefits politicians who shortly devise other means – tolling? – to further empty the pockets of working suburban women and all their other targets. Toll gantries placed approximately every 6.6 miles on interstates 95, 84, 91, 395, 691 and 291 and routes 2, 9, 8 and 15 would allow the state to take a major bite from working suburban women, among others. According to the study, Connecticut could collect more than $1 billion per year from electronic tolls.

If there is anyone in the state who believes that tolling – count the gantries – will be long limited to out-of-state trucks, perhaps his or her voting rights should be taken from them and given to the guy behind the tree. Mocking those who believe the claims of politicians that they will be exempted from paying taxes, the late Louisiana Sen. Russell Long offered the following short pearl of wisdom in verse: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.”

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

Silver night

"How cold it is! Even the lights are cold;
They have put shawls of fog around them, see!
What if the air should grow so dimly white
That we would lose our way along the paths
Made new by walls of moving mist receding
The more we follow. . . . What a silver night!
That was our bench the time you said to me
The long new poem -- but how different now,
How eerie with the curtain of the fog
Making it strange to all the friendly trees!"

-- Sara Teasdale, “A November Night’’

Moonlit mystery

  — Photo by Jeblad

— Photo by Jeblad

“Late November and I am

in a country house.

The moon glares across

an open field and there’s

a lump of deer guts

like shapeless sculpture.

The air keeps cutting

at the stubble I can’t see


The wind in the eaves

breaks some shingles loose,

and I want a deer to rise

from the pile of himself.’’

— From “A Country House,’’ by Robert Lowell (1917-1977)

Mt. Greylock and 'Moby Dick'

  Mt. Greylock.

Mt. Greylock.

‘‘From the desk at which he wrote Moby-Dick {in the 1850s}… Herman Melville could gaze upon … western Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains. In the summer of 1850, at age 31, the writer had moved from New York City, … to the outskirts of Pittsfield, then still a village, where he settled into a modest, mustard-yellow farmhouse called Arrowhead—for the Native American artifacts once unearthed on the property. After years of sailing the world aboard New England whaling vessels, Melville was trying his hand at farming. … But in winter, the landscape turned his thoughts back toward the mariner's life.’’

”From Melville's cramped, book-lined study, visitors today take in a clear view of Mt. Greylock. For Melville, the brooding mass of wintry Greylock called to mind, or so biographer Andrew Delbanco has speculated, a great leviathan, emerging from a roiling, white-capped ocean. Although Melville's few surviving letters make no mention of this, his neighbor and fellow novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once wrote that Melville spent his days ‘shaping out the gigantic conception of his white whale’ while staring at the snow-covered mountain. In his novel, Melville would describe Moby-Dick as a ‘grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air."‘

— From Jonathan Kandell’s article “The Berkshires,’’ in the May 2007 Smithsonian Magazine.

Carbon tax is coming

  Mystic Generating Station, in Everett, Mass. It burns oil and natural gas.

Mystic Generating Station, in Everett, Mass. It burns oil and natural gas.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

‘Voters in Washington State have rejected a badly drafted “carbon tax’’ proposal for power plants and other polluters. The money from the levy would have gone to help pay for various air-quality and other environmental needs. Carbon taxes proposed for other jurisdictions would go to those sorts of initiatives as well as to other public projects or even be rebated to the public.

The idea, obviously, is to reduce the burning of fossil fuels by making them more expensive. A carbon tax is the most efficient --- and market-based way -- to reduce our lethal fossil-fuel dependence. I think that we’ll eventually see it in all developed nations, though that might require more weather disasters first. We’ll do the right thing after we’ve exhausted all other options.

Llewellyn King: Will Bezos's kiss be lethal?

 On the waterfront of the Long Island City part of New York City. It’s the flood-prone area where Amazon will put one of its “Second Headquarters.’’

On the waterfront of the Long Island City part of New York City. It’s the flood-prone area where Amazon will put one of its “Second Headquarters.’’

Having run around the country as a modern Prince Charming in search of Cinderella, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's boss, has decided that two hopefuls fit the slipper: Crystal City, Va., part of Arlington, and the Long Island City part of the New York city borough of Queens.

But these Cinderellas aren’t to be carried off to live happily ever after in Amazon Castle. No, there are dowries to be paid -- about $2 billion each in tax abatement and other goodies. These beauties are no bargain.

In fact, New York City and Washington, D.C. -- Queens is a borough of New York and Crystal City is a Virginia suburb, south of Washington -- may be prostrating themselves to gain possibly 25,000 jobs in an unhappy, taxpayer-funded alliance.

The theories as to why Bezos chose these locations abound. The dominant one is that high-tech companies must follow high-tech workers. That explains why Boston and San Francisco are overheated along with, yes, New York and Washington.

This overheating might be described as more people trying to get into a city than its housing base and infrastructure can absorb. Result: skyscraper-high living costs, hideous commutes and wretched lives for those on the economic bottom rung. High rents and homelessness go together.

I'm more persuaded that the decision has been made more to suit Bezos and his executives than to snare talent. Washington is the site of one of the Bezos's mansions and he owns The Washington Post. New York has always had special appeal to the ultra-rich: Wall Street and the gilded social set.

Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, is white-hot in terms of desirability for high-tech jobs. But it was underdeveloped 45 years ago when a visionary scientist, Chauncey Starr, established the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) there. Starr told me he chose the location not because of the talent pool, but because he wanted the independence he feared he wouldn’t get in a big city, close to the electric companies which funded EPRI. The high-tech talent was yet to move in.

The point here is that it’s not necessary to go to the labor, the labor will come to you. Had Amazon chosen, say Upstate New York or somewhere in Kansas, and hung out a shingle for help, it would’ve poured in: Build and they’ll come.

The great Washington hostess and diplomat Perle Mesta said, “All you have to do to draw a crowd to a Washington party is to hang a lamb chop in the window.” The same goes for labor.

The downside to Washington these days is that its roads and bridges, to say nothing of its troubled subway, are inadequate for the stunning growth it has seen since the late 1960s. It has some of the worst traffic jams anywhere and is said to have overtaken Los Angeles for traffic congestion. As the greater Washington area is split between the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, regional problems are hard to solve and often go unsolved as a result.

New York needs infrastructure spending in the worst way, from the tunnels into Penn Station to the estimated $48 billion the subway needs to modernize. But an increasing amount of the city's capital budget is going to have to be devoted to building barriers against sea rise, particularly in lower Manhattan and to a lesser extent in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Is it a good investment to sink money into any location which is going to have to throw its treasure at Neptune, not improving the rest of the infrastructure?

As someone who lived most of his adult life in Washington, I don’t celebrate its helter-skelter growth, gridlocked roads, potential water shortages or the just-upgraded sewage treatment plant, Blue Plains, which has been known to flood, sending the raw stuff into the Potomac River in big rainstorms.

Virginia and New York, have you bought into a cyber-dream from Amazon which denies reality? You’re paying for a tenant who should pay you for the stress of his buildout.

Prince Bezos, there were so many other pretty feet.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.