Hopeful architecture

  Wilcox-Cutts House, in Orwell. Vt.  It was mostly built in 1843.

Wilcox-Cutts House, in Orwell. Vt.  It was mostly built in 1843.

"Their idiom, their dimension,

was life; they spoke in its terms.

What vigor their houses have! --

deep-based, tall-windowed, updrawn,"

towered, they rise like trees

from thin soil spruced into lawn

and shell-rimmed flowerbed,

toward a more specious air.'

--From  "Intimations of Immortality, Cuttingsville, Vermont, 1880,'' by Constance Carrrier



Chris Powell: 'Diversity' Democrats start at the top

With two zillionaire candidates hoping to win their party's primary for governor with pervasive advertising, Connecticut's Republicans aren't the only ones being asked to nominate candidates nobody knows but who want to start at the top.

Connecticut's Democrats are being asked to do it as well, only instead of money, the basis of the pitch to start at the top is "diversity."

In the 5th Congressional District, the candidate endorsed last week by the party's district convention, former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, the party's candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, is being challenged in a primary by Jahana Hayes, of Wolcott, a Waterbury teacher who was national teacher of the year in 2016. Hayes has no record in public life and her claim on the nomination is frankly that she is black while Glassman is white and the Democratic ticket needs racial diversity. So much for Glassman's having been Simsbury's first Democratic chief executive in 40 years, diversity in political substance.

At the Democratic State Convention last the weekend, ethnic diversity was claimed as justification for a primary for the nomination for lieutenant governor.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who in pursuit of party unity ended her candidacy for governor to become the lieutenant governor candidate of Ned Lamont, the choice of party leaders for governor, was challenged by Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, of Newtown. Zimmerman is a government employee union organizer who lost a race for state representative two years ago. Her claim on the lieutenant governor nomination is only that she is of Latin American descent and Bysiewicz is white.

What is Zimmerman's expertise for high state executive office and what are her positions on the big issues? Announcing her candidacy, she didn't say and none of her supporters knew, though maybe, after her ethnicity, they think it is enough that she is a government employee union organizer, as if the Democratic Party needs to be even more identified with that predatory special interest.

Lamont has played along with this as much as he reasonably could. He has pledged to have the most diverse state administration in history and he solicited New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who is black, to run with him as lieutenant governor. Harp would have been not just a "diversity" candidate but a well-qualified one, having been a state senator for many years before becoming mayor -- completely vetted and a known quantity. She declined Lamont's offer and the Democrats had no other well-qualified minority prospect for the lieutenant governor nomination.

Since the last eight years of Democratic rule have dragged state government into insolvency and given Connecticut nearly the worst economy in the country, it may be no wonder that the party prefers to stress race and ethnicity. But such things won't pay the bills.

This year's proliferation of candidates without records in public life emphasizes the usefulness of party conventions for vetting purposes. For conventions test the character of candidates and delegates alike in public, pushing some into betrayals or opportunism.

Further, while primaries properly provide the ultimate democracy in party politics and at last are fairly accessible to candidates in Connecticut, conventions introduce the party to itself and confer the judgment of its most committed members on its prospective nominees. That judgment isn't infallible but it's usually worth something.

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


'Constant mirage'

  Dunes at Sandy Neck, in Barnstable, Cape Cod.

Dunes at Sandy Neck, in Barnstable, Cape Cod.

"Instead of fences, the earth was sometimes thrown up into a slight ridge. My companion compared it to the rolling prairies of Illinois. In the storm of wind and rain that raged when we traversed it, it no doubt appeared more vast and desolate than it really is.....A solitary traveler whom we saw perambulating in the distance loomed like a giant....Indeed, to an inlander, the Cape landscape is a constant mirage.''

Henry David Thoreau, in Cape Cod (1865)


Go with the flow

  "Order and Chaos'' (diptych, oil on copper), by Nora Charney Rosenbaum, in the show "Ghost Fish,'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, May 30-July 1. She says: "The underlying theme of this group of work is the movement of water as a metaphor for my recent life experiences. Seeking predictability amidst chaos, equilibrium in turbulence, I've been carried along by currents either willingly or with resistance.''

"Order and Chaos'' (diptych, oil on copper), by Nora Charney Rosenbaum, in the show "Ghost Fish,'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, May 30-July 1. She says: "The underlying theme of this group of work is the movement of water as a metaphor for my recent life experiences. Seeking predictability amidst chaos, equilibrium in turbulence, I've been carried along by currents either willingly or with resistance.''

But not at their homes


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

In my view, the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled wrongly in overturning the conviction of William Schenk on a disorderly-conduct charge for leaving Ku Klux Klan flyers at the Burlington homes of two women of color. The First Amendment does not protect such obviously threatening behavior -- at private homes -- by a man representing an organization with a violent, terrorist history. If he wants to give racist speeches and leave flyers with images of burning crosses, robed Klansmen and Confederate battle flags let him do that in a public place, not at the homes of people whose color makes them targets of physical assaults by  KKK members.

Free-speech cases can be tough.

CEO imperialism on Nantucket

  Theodore Robinson's painting Nantucket, (1882) -- way before the modern fat cats arrived to take over much of the island.

Theodore Robinson's painting Nantucket, (1882) -- way before the modern fat cats arrived to take over much of the island.

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

A rich Nantucket summer resident (and that’s sort of a redundancy these days) is fighting mightily to prevent  the Nantucket Land Bank from building a small dormitory for 22 seasonal workers to address in a minor way the deep affordable-housing crisis on that billionaire-dense island, where some workers have had to sleep on floors or in vehicles and shipping containers. The dorm would be 350 feet, but well shielded by trees, from the 5,700-square-foot wooden chateau of David Long, the CEO of Liberty Mutual, the Boston-based insurance company. He calls the place “Summer Wind.’’

Long has hired a bunch of high-priced lawyers to try to kill the project through assorted technical arguments even as the Board of Selectmen and most others on the island support it. Long doesn’t want the peasantry near him.

Long may be typical of the imperial executives who have been running companies (and now the United States) since the ‘80s – obsessed with maximizing their personal wealth above all else and wallowing in conspicuous consumption. They tend to have houses in places such as the Hamptons and Nantucket which, since crowded by other rich people, further inflates their self-importance.

Long was paid about $20 million last year, and, as The Boston Globe famously noted, $4.5 million was spent to renovate his 1,335-square-foot office (throne room?) at Liberty Mutual.

Such folks are making Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard boring. They’re building a Greenwich, Conn., on sand dunes.

The retired general who helped to stop a Wall St. coup against FDR

   Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler.

 Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler.

From OtherWords.org

Many Americans would be shocked to learn that political coups are part of our country’s history. Consider the Wall Street Putsch of 1933.

Never heard of it? It was a corporate conspiracy to oust Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had just been elected president.

With the Great Depression raging and millions of families financially devastated, FDR had launched several economic-recovery programs to help people get back on their feet. To pay for this crucial effort, he had the audacity to raise taxes on the wealthy, and this enraged a group of Wall Street multimillionaires.

Wailing that their “liberty” to grab as much wealth as possible was being shackled, they accused the president of mounting a “class war.” To pull off their coup, they plotted to enlist a private military force made up of destitute World War I vets who were upset at not receiving promised federal bonus payments.

One of the multimillionaires’ lackeys reached out to a well-respected advocate for veterans: Retired Marine Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler. They wanted him to lead 500,000 veterans in a march on Washington to force FDR from the White House.

They chose the wrong general. Butler was a patriot and lifelong soldier for democracy, who, in his later years, became a famous critic of corporate war profiteering.

Butler was repulsed by the hubris and treachery of these Wall Street aristocrats. He reached out to a reporter, and together they gathered proof to take to Congress. A special congressional committee investigated and found Butler’s story “alarmingly true,” leading to public hearings, with Butler giving detailed testimony.

By exposing the traitors, this courageous patriot nipped their coup in the bud. But their sense of entitlement reveals that we must be aware of the concentrated wealth of the imperious rich, for it poses an ever-present danger to majority rule.

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


CEO imperialism on Nantucket

  Theodore Robinson's painting Nantucket, (1882) -- way before the modern fat cats arrived to take over much of the island.

Theodore Robinson's painting Nantucket, (1882) -- way before the modern fat cats arrived to take over much of the island.

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

A rich Nantucket summer resident (and that’s sort of a redundancy these days) is fighting mightily to prevent  the Nantucket Land Bank from building a small dormitory for 22 seasonal workers to address in a minor way the deep affordable-housing crisis on that billionaire-dense island, where some workers have had to sleep on floors or in vehicles and shipping containers. The dorm would be 350 feet, but well shielded by trees, from the 5,700-square-foot wooden chateau of David Long, the CEO of Liberty Mutual, the Boston-based insurance company. He calls the place “Summer Wind.’’

Long has hired a bunch of high-priced lawyers to try to kill the project through assorted technical arguments even as the Board of Selectmen and most others on the island support it. Long doesn’t want the peasantry near him.

Long may be typical of the imperial executives who have been running companies (and now the United States) since the ‘80s – obsessed with maximizing their personal wealth above all else and wallowing in conspicuous consumption. They tend to have houses in places such as the Hamptons and Nantucket which, since crowded by other rich people, further inflates their self-importance.

Long was paid about $20 million last year, and, as The Boston Globe famously noted, $4.5 million was spent to renovate his 1,335-square-foot office (throne room?) at Liberty Mutual.

Such folks are making Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard boring. They’re building a Greenwich, Conn., on sand dunes.

'Drifting on the breeze'


"The fragrant air is full of down,
Of floating, fleecy things
From some forgotten fairy town
Where all the folk wear wings.
Or else the snowflakes, soft arrayed
In dainty suits of lace,
Have ventured back in masquerade,
Spring's festival to grace.
Or these, perchance, are fleets of fluff,
Laden with rainbow seeds,
That count their cargo rich enough
Though all its wealth be weeds.
Or come they from the golden trees,
Where dancing blossoms were,
That now are drifting on the breeze,
Sweet ghosts of gossamer? ''

"The End of May,'' by Katherine Lee Bates, of Falmouth, Mass. She wrote the lyrics for "America the Beautiful''.

Nicholas Boke: Interactive climate simulation


From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

MIT Prof. John Sterman recently visited Brown University to engage students and the public with interactive climate modeling. (Nicholas Boke/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — “Climate is a complicated, noisy problem,” John Sterman told an audience of the climatologically inclined at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs on May 1.

“Climate change is real,” he continued. “The problem is that the costs are deferred to the future.”

But the worst part, he explained, is that as soon as any climate expert anywhere projects yet another graphic of the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide onto a screen, then superimposes the parallel rise in the Earth’s temperature, “most talks on climate go off the rails.

“We start off saying, ‘Lemme tell you the facts,’ because we know that science needs to show the evidence, about which there’s no credible doubt any more. But the public’s not there yet. And we’ve got research that shows just providing information doesn’t work.”

At which point, Sterman projected a photo of an audience dozing contentedly through a presentation on climate change.

Sterman, an MIT professor of management, and his colleagues believe that they’ve found a way around this public-awareness Catch-22: an interactive online world climate simulation called the Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support (C-ROADS), which allows visitors to see what happens to temperature increase, sea-level rise and related impacts when countries make various decisions about carbon dioxide emissions.

So twice  Sterman took audiences through the C-ROADS process. The first time was during the hour he spent with the general public at an event sponsored by the Institute at Brown for Environment & Society. The second, a three-hour event, was with several dozen students in Eric Patashnick’s system dynamics class.

The principle is simple. Participants run three-dimensional climate models on their laptops, plugging in “decisions” and watching the impact on global temperature rise.

This interactive Web site is well beyond beta-testing. It’s been used by participants in the 2014 China-U.S. negotiations on climate change, at the 2016 Paris meeting at which the latest U.N. climate accords were agreed upon, and at more than 800 events in 76 countries involving more than 40,000 participants.

Participant then-Secretary of State John Kerry effused, “I have to tell you, it works … I used it,” and the Dalai Lama, who has also engaged in the process, promised, “I will join you, shouting!”

Explaining that “If [Secretary of State] Pompeo wants to get serious and fill the seat of the special envoy on climate change, I’ll run him through it,” Sterman said.

The process

At Brown University earlier this month, Sterman ran both groups through the process.

With the general audience he flashed the C-ROADS page on the screen. It offered graphs showing carbon dioxide emissions by group and temperature increase by year, 2000-2100. Below was a chart on which each group could project decisions they would make: the peak-emissions year, the year CO2 emissions would begin to decline and by what annual reduction rate, the amount of deforestation allowed, and the amount of “afforestation” — replacement of forests — that would be targeted.

When decisions made by each group — the United States, the European Union, China and developing nations — were entered into the system, the program would alter the slopes on the graphs and calculate the amount by which the currently projected 2100 temperature rise of 4.2 degrees Celsius (7.5 Fahrenheit) would be diminished.

“People say they don’t even know what they’re going to do after lunch,” Sterman said. “I ask if they have children, or if they might have children someday. So let’s figure out what you’re going to do after lunch, then figure out what to do about what really matters.”

With the hour-long general public group, he asked individuals to think like Putin or Trump or Xi Jinping, and to make decisions about each topic.

A woman — briefly thinking of herself as  German Chancellor Angela Merkel — suggested that the European Union might be willing to cut emissions by 5 percent. Trump has agreed to 2 percent. Putin has said Russia would cut less than the United States. Xi Jinping said China would try for a 1 percent cut by 2035. India and Chile, of course, were reluctant to cut much, given their economic circumstances. The result, after further commitments, would be to bring the temperature rise from 4.2 degrees to 3 degrees.

“So the temperature keeps rising,” Sterman said, “because we’re still emitting and the concentration is still accumulating. It’s like pouring water into the tub at twice the rate it’s draining. We get ocean acidification, which affects the base of the food web, sea levels will rise by 1.8 meters [nearly 6 feet] and we’ll get more superstorms.”

Pictures of the projected impact of this level of sea-level rise on Shanghai and Bangladesh appeared, followed by a discussion of the social and political impacts of climate refugees.

Sterman flashed a picture of how much of Providence would be flooded with a 6-foot rise.

“Don’t think you’re safe at Brown,” he said. “The power plant is under water. At that level, what was once a hundred-year storm will take place every year.”

He and the audience went back and revised their figures, finally bringing the temperature rise down to 2.6 degrees Celsius.

“You can see what a game of Russian roulette this is we’re playing,” Sterman said. “You have to let people go through this process, not just tell them about it, if you want them to pay attention.”

Students give it a try

Later that afternoon, Sterman broke Patashnik’s class into groups of five or six, each of which were to play a role in the simulation: the United States, the European Union, other developed nations, China, India, other developing nations, the U.S. Climate Alliance (14 states and Puerto Rico), the fossil-fuel industry, and climate activists.

They were given a few minutes to plan their strategies, then sent out to negotiate with others.
The India delegation told the U.S. delegation that they couldn’t afford to cut much, but they’d participate more aggressively in the war on terror in exchange for big cuts by the United States and contributions to the global climate fund. The fossil-fuels group was willing to agree with China that reforestation was an effective tool. Africa and other developing nations didn’t feel they had much to bargain with.

The groups reported what they were willing to do, including how much money they would commit to support countries that needed help carrying out their commitments. Sterman entered their numbers into the C-ROADS program.

Once each group had entered its commitments, temperatures would rise by 3.1 degrees by 2100, resulting in a situation not unlike what the morning group had confronted.

“You’ll cross that two-degree threshold at 2050,” Sterman said, “when all of you are still alive and your children may be just about to enter college.”

He sent them back to renegotiate. The groups were eventually able to bring the temperature rise down to 2.3 Celsius by 2100, after China saw that it would lose Shanghai, the United States saw it would lose New Orleans, and that, as Sterman put it, “they realized that there’s no wall high enough to protect the developed world from the consequences.”

The Brown University students thought that the process was generally a productive one, though all acknowledged that real-world negotiations would be much more politically fraught than their efforts had been.

“It certainly put things into perspective,” Byron Lindo, a member of the developing nations group, said, “but everybody here already pretty much agrees about the problem.”

This online interactive program is open and free to all. Sterman said the program is appropriate for high school and up, for business leaders, government officials, and just plain folk.

Nicholas Boke is a freelance writer and international education consultant who lives in Providence.


David Warsh: The other Russia story


It may seem like an odd time to bring up the other Russia story, this being the first anniversary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. But as it happens, there has been a break in this neglected case – or, rather, two of them.  


It was slightly more than a year ago that President Trump fired   FBI James Comey and, the next day, told Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that Comey was “crazy, a real nut job.” He continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Two weeks later Mueller was appointed, and his Russia investigation has only escalated since then, sprawling into several unexpected corners.


The New York Times offered readers a helpful graphic last winter: “Most of the stories under the ‘Russia’ umbrella generally fall into one of three categories: Russian cyber attacks; links to Russian officials and intermediaries; alleged obstruction.”

There is, however, another aspect of the Russia story, a category altogether missing in the Times’ classification scheme, an obviously thorny topic that almost no one wants to discuss: the proverbial elephant in the room. 

It concerns the extensive background to the 2016 campaign – the relationship between the United States and Russia over the long arc of the 20th Century, and, especially, the years since the end of the Cold War. This aspect is complicated, involving all five U.S. administrations since the Soviet Union dissolved itself at the end of 1991. It is a difficult story to tell.

I backed into it slowly, having followed for many years the Harvard-Russia scandal of the 1990s. In 1993, the U.S. Agency for International Development, a semi-independent unit of the State Department, hired Harvard University’s Institute for International Development to provide technical economic assistance to the Russian government on its market reforms. Eight years later, the Justice Department sued Harvard for having let its team leaders go rogue.

Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and his deputy, Jonathan Hay, were accused of investing in Russian securities, and of having established their wives at the head the line in the nascent Russian mutual-fund industry. The suit was settled in 2005. The government recovered most of the money it had spent. The incident played a part in Harvard University president Lawrence Summers’s resignation the following winter. As Shleifer’s friend and mentor, Summers had distanced himself via recusal.

After Boris Yeltsin had died, in 2007, I wrote a column about the failures of U.S. policies in the 1990s. Thereafter I followed developments with increasing interest and alarm, particularly after the Ukraine crisis of 2014. And in the summer of 2016, when it seemed likely that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, I set out to collect some of the columns I had written and to add some additional narrative material in order to call attention to the entanglements she and her advisers would bring to the job. That project was supposed to take one year. It took two. 

Because They Could: The Harvard Russia Scandal (and NATO Expansion) after Twenty-Five Years (CreateSpace) was finally published on Amazon last week – 300 pages and a relative bargain at $15. The book consists of three main parts. 


The first is a recap of the scandal as it appeared in the newspapers, from the front page of The Wall Street Journal, in August 1997; to Harvard’s decision, in March 2001, to try the case rather than settle the government suit; to September 2013, when Summers withdrew from the competition with Janet Yellen to head the Fed. These 29 columns, written as the story unfolded, introduce first-time readers to the scandal, and remind experts of what and when we knew and how we knew it.


The second part concerns the Portland, Maine, businessman whom the Harvard team leaders inveigled to start a mutual fund back-office firm in Russia, then forced out of its ownership. It turns out there was a second suit, overlooked for the most part because Harvard settled, paying an undisclosed sum in return for a non-disclosure agreement. This now-familiar tactic insured that John Keffer, whose Forum Financial at that point was one of the largest independently owned mutual fund administrators in the world, and a significant presence in Poland, would be unable to tell his story. Only his filings and the massive documentation of the government case remained.

The third consists of six short essays on aspects of the U.S. relationship with Russia since 1991. These relate a brief history of NATO expansion, which took place despite the administration of George H.W. Bush pledging in exchange for Russia agreeing to the reunification of Germany that the US would not further enlarge NATO; tell something of the U.S. press corps in Moscow during those 25 years; identify a key issue in Russian historiography; express some sympathy for ordinary Russians and even for Vladimir Putin himself; and seek to separate the accidental presidency of Donald Trump from all the rest, the better to understand why he has so little standing in in the matter. 

Also included is a short paean to the news values of The Wall Street Journal and two appendices. One is Shleifer’s letter to Harvard provost Albert Carnesale as the USAID investigation built to its climax. The other is the heavily-annotated business plan, drafted by Hay’s then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Hebert, later his wife, to make it appear to have been written by Hay, and backed financially by Shleifer’s wife, hedge-fund proprietor Nancy Zimmerman, offering control of Keffer’s company to Thomas Steyer, of Farallon Capital (who had been Ms. Zimmerman’s principal original backer), and Peter Aldrich, of AEW Capital Management, a director of the National Bureau of Economic Research.


Preparing to espouse these unpopular views has made me snap to attention on the rare occasions when they are expressed in the mainstream press – not on the op-ed pages, where they mostly represent reflexive ballast-balancing, but in the news pages, where some deeper form of institutional judgment is at work. That was the case last Sunday, when an 8,600-words article in the SundayNew York Times Magazine presented the case that the United States shared the blame for the current disorder. The Quiet Americans startled me (though not the designer, who illustrated it with a standard what-makes-Russia-tick? design). The dispatch itself was a significant advance in the other Russia story. 


Keith Gessen, 53, is a Russian-born American novelist (A Terrible Country: A Novel) and journalist, a translator of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl). He is coeditor ofn+1, a magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City as well\ and an assistant professor of journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is a younger brother of Masha Gessen, 61, author of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia(2017) and The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2013); their parents emigrated, with four children, from the USSR to the US in 1981. (As an adult, Masha Gessen returned to Russia in 1991, leaving for a second time in 2013.)


In the article, Gessen writes that “behind the visible façade of changing presidents and changing policy statements and changing styles, [those who influenced U.S. policy toward Russia] were actually a small core of officials who not only executed policy but effectively determined it.” Getting out of the mess requires retracing the steps by which we got into it, he writes; that means starting with the small group of experts known as “the Russia hands.”


Gessen identifies and interviews many of the analysts who were in the vanguard of NATO expansion: Victoria Nuland, former NATO ambassador under Bush who became assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia under President Obama; Daniel Fried, her predecessor under Bush; Stephen Sestanovich, ambassador to the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union under President Clinton; Richard Kuglar, a strategist who co-wrote an influential  1994 RAND Corp. report advocating NATO expansion; and Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state for seven years under President Clinton, “the first-high level Russia hand of the post-Cold War.” 


Interleaved with their stories are those of their critics, analysts “deeply skeptical of the missionary impulse that has characterized Ameican policy toward Russia for so long”:” Thomas Graham, of Kissinger Associates; Michael Kimmage, of the Catholic University of America; Olga Oliker, of the Institute for Strategic Studies;Michael Kofman, of the Wilson Center; Samuel Charap, of RAND Corp.; Timothy Colton, of Harvard University; Angela Stent, of Georgetown University; and the former Brookings Institution duo of Clifford Gaddy, of Pennsylvania State University, and Fiona Hill, now serving as an advisor to President Trump. 


Conspicuously missing from Gessen’s account are veterans of the first Bush administration, Jack Matlock, ambassador to the USSR, in particular. Compensating for their absence are the anonymous quotations (in March) of a “senior official” of the Trump administration, “deeply knowledgeable and highly competent,'' which fits the description and the mindset of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. For something of Gessen’s take on Putin, see his long article last year in The Guardian: Killer, kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin,


Many of these names also appear in the second half of my book. The story is broadly the same: that bedizened by its “victory” in the Cold War, the United States has consistently overreached. But there is an important difference. Gessen concludes that the servants did it. I ascribe the blame mostly to the American presidents who hired the hands, to Bill Clinton in particular, who with his Oxford roommate Talbott and friend Richard Holbrooke began the process of NATO expansion over experts’ objections; George W. Bush, who continued and ramped it up with his “Freedom Agenda”; and Barack Obama, who may have been more concerned with the limits of American power than his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, but who continued the policies of his predecessors. 


On the central point, however, Gessen and I completely agree. We both think the U.S. debate is seriously out of kilter. He quotes the legendary George Kennan, from his “Long Telegram” of 1946, which framed the long-term strategy of containment: “Much depends on the health and vigor of our own society.” Gessen then concludes:


"[American] society now looks sick. The absence of nuance on the Russia question – the embrace of Russia as America’s new-old supervillain – is probably best understood as a symptom of that sickness. And even as both parties gnash their teeth over Russia, politicians and experts alike seem to be in denial about mistakes made in the past and the lessons to be learned from them.''


He might also have mentioned the mainstream press: The Washington Post, the WSJ, the Times itself, at least until last week. That’s why I depend on Johnson’s Russia List for my coverage of the topics. For instance, I admire Bloomberg News columnist Leonid Bershidsky. I might not otherwise have seen his account of the “Who Lost Russia” debate last week between historian Stephen Cohen and former Obama Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Bershidsky is right when he states, “These days, Russia is merely a big football for Americans.” More revealing than the yardage between the opposing goalposts that are McFaul and Cohen is the scrimmage taking place somewhere in between, as, for instance, in the difference of opinion between Gessen and me. This other Russia story is just getting started. 

David Warsh is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this first ran.


Chris Powell: Conn. doesn't need Indians to run its gambling; arrogant encounter at Yale

  Foxwoods -- the Pequot tribe's gigantic casino and resort, in Ledyard, Conn.

Foxwoods -- the Pequot tribe's gigantic casino and resort, in Ledyard, Conn.

Nobody calls for a special session of the  Connecticut General Assembly when some financial scandal breaks in state government, as when, the other day, the state auditors reported that the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which gives tens of millions of dollars away every year, has never learned how to count money or jobs.

But last week, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal law that prohibited states from authorizing sports betting, Gov. Dannel Malloy and state legislators quickly announced their interest in a special session to get state government into the sports betting business. The governor and legislators imagine annual sports betting tax revenue of as much as $80 million.

Just as Connecticut's authorization of Indian casinos 30 years ago pushed most of the rest of the country into casino gambling, the Supreme Court decision will push most states into sports betting, and much faster, since the Internet instantly will carry any state's sports betting nationwide. Connecticut and other states will either undertake their own sports betting or forfeit the sports betting of their residents to other states.

The sports betting issue facing Connecticut is simply whether state government will accept the claim of its two reconstituted Indian tribes that their casino duopoly arrangement with the state gives them exclusivity on sports betting as well. The claim hinges on whether sports betting is to be considered just as much a casino game as slot machines and blackjack.

So this is the moment for state government to assert its sovereignty, to reject the tribes' claims and start subjecting their casino exclusivity rights to regular auction. Those rights well may be worth more than what the tribes long have been paying -- 25 percent of their slot-machine revenue.

Connecticut doesn't need Indians to run its gambling. Anybody else might do it.


ARROGANCE AND CONCEIT AT YALE: Of course admission to Yale University is competitive, but even so the school seems to have more than its share of arrogant and conceited students.

Two of them made national news the other day when one, a white woman, discovered another, a black woman, napping in a dormitory lounge at night. Apparently assuming that the black woman was a hobo or something worse, the white woman told her she couldn't sleep there.

The black woman, who had been writing a paper, replied that she was a student. The white woman said she was calling the police anyway. The black woman told her to go ahead and recorded the exchange on her cellphone. The police came and determined nothing was wrong.

But the black woman couldn't leave it at that. She vented on the police her resentment of the white woman's presumption, telling the cops that her ancestors had built the university, apparently because its early benefactor, Elihu Yale, who in 1718 donated what today would be about $185,000, had been a slave trader -- as if in the three centuries since then no one else has built the university, too.

The university said it had admonished the white student. Then it sank into its usual squishy political correctness, declaring that it would commence "conversations" about "inclusiveness." Yale should have just told its students to take the chips off their snotty shoulders.

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



Meredith Angwin: New Englanders should get ready for rolling blackouts

  Mystic Station power plant, in Everett, Mass., where two gas-fired units might be closed.

Mystic Station power plant, in Everett, Mass., where two gas-fired units might be closed.



Rolling blackouts are probably coming to New England sooner than expected.

When there’s not enough supply of electricity to meet demand, an electric grid operator cuts power to one section of the grid to keep the rest of the grid from failing.  After a while, the operator restores the power to the blacked-out area and moves the blackout on to another section. The New England grid operator (ISO-NE) recently completed a major study of various scenarios for the near-term future (2024-2025) of the grid, including the possibilities of rolling blackouts. (ISO stands for Independent System Operator.)

In New England, blackouts are expected to occur during the coldest weather, because that is when the grid is most stressed. Rolling blackouts add painful uncertainty – and danger – to everyday life.  You aren’t likely to know when a blackout will happen, because most grid operators have a policy that announcing a blackout would attract crime to the area.

Exelon announces plan to close Mystic Station

In early April, Exelon said that it would close two large natural-gas-fired units at Mystic Station, in Everett, Mass. In its report about possibilities for the winter of 2024-25, ISO-NE had included the loss of these two plants as one of its scenarios. The ISO-NE report concluded that Mystic’s possible closure would lead to 20 to 50 hours of load shedding (rolling blackouts) and hundreds of hours of grid operation under emergency protocols.

When Exelon made its closure announcement, ISO-NE realized that the danger of rolling blackouts was suddenly more immediate than 2024.  ISO-NE now hopes to grant “out of market cost recovery” (that is, subsidies) to persuade Exelon to keep the Mystic plants operating. If ISO-NE gets FERC permission for the subsidies, some of the threat of blackouts will retreat a few years into the future.

Winter scenarios and natural gas

The foremost challenge to grid reliability is the inability of power plants to get fuel in winter.  So ISO-NE  modeled various scenarios, such as winter-long outages at key energy facilities, and difficulty or ease of delivering Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to existing plants.

Ominously, 19 of the 23 of the ISO-NE scenarios led to rolling blackouts. The worst scenarios, with the longest blackouts, included a long outage at a nuclear plant or a long-lasting failure of a gas pipeline compressor.

A major cause of these grid problems is that the New England grid is heavily dependent on natural gas. Power plants using natural gas supply about 50 percent of New England’s electricity on a year-round basis. Pipelines give priority to delivering gas for home heating over delivering gas to power plants. In the winter, some power plants cannot get enough gas to operate. Other fuels have to take up the slack. But coal and nuclear generators are retiring, and with them goes needed capacity. In general, the competing-for-natural-gas problem will get steadily worse over time.

All the ISO-NE scenarios assumed that no new oil, coal, or nuclear plants are built, some existing plants will close, and no new pipelines are constructed. Their scenarios included renewable buildouts, transmission line construction, increased delivery of LNG, plant outages and compressor outages.

Natural gas and LNG

The one “no-problem” scenario (no load shedding, no emergency procedures) is one where everything goes right. It assumed no major pipeline or power plant outages. It included a large renewable buildout plus greatly increased LNG delivery, despite difficult winter weather. This no-problem scenario also assumes a minimum number of retirements of coal, oil and nuclear plants.

This positive scenario is dependent on increased LNG deliveries from abroad. Thanks to the Jones Act, New England cannot obtain domestic LNG. There are no LNG carriers flying an American flag, and the Jones Act prevents foreign carriers from delivering American goods to American ports.

We can plan to import more electricity, but ISO-NE  notes that such imports are also problematic.  Canada has extreme winter weather (and curtails electricity exports) at the same time that New England has extreme weather and a stressed grid.

New England needs a diverse grid

To avoid blackouts, we need to diversify our energy supply beyond renewables and natural gas to have a grid that can reliably deliver power in all sorts of weather.  When we close nuclear and coal plants and don’t build gas pipelines, we increase our weather-vulnerable dependency on imported LNG.

We need to keep existing nuclear, hydro, coal and oil plants available to meet peak demands, even if it takes subsidies.  Coal is a problem fuel, but running a coal plant for a comparatively short time in bad weather is a better choice than rolling blackouts.

This can’t happen overnight. It has to be planned for. If we don’t diversify our electricity supply, we will have to get used to enduring rolling blackouts.
Meredith Angwin is a retired physical chemist and a member of the ISO-NE consumer advisory group. She headed the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project and her latest book is Campaigning for Clean Air.


A painter's and a writer's depiction of character

  Painting by Andy Newman, in the show "Parallel Paths,'' at the Umbrella Community Art Center, Concord, Mass., through June 15. The show features the work of Mr. Newman and writer Gregory Maguire, who are married to each other. Mr. Newman's figures are shown alongside characters from Mr. Maguire's novels in a display of the sympathetic depiction of character.

Painting by Andy Newman, in the show "Parallel Paths,'' at the Umbrella Community Art Center, Concord, Mass., through June 15. The show features the work of Mr. Newman and writer Gregory Maguire, who are married to each other. Mr. Newman's figures are shown alongside characters from Mr. Maguire's novels in a display of the sympathetic depiction of character.

Llewellyn King: Wolfe a revolutionary in a white suit

  Tom Wolfe at the White House in 2004.

Tom Wolfe at the White House in 2004.

Every field of endeavor gets stuck in a rut and it takes a pioneer, a rebel, to blast it loose. In journalism and literature, Tom Wolfe, who  died last week at 88, did that, starting in the 1960s.

His incendiary device was the “New Journalism.” It used the techniques of the novel in observation and quoted speech for news and feature writing. Wolfe was its exemplar with unequaled verbal pyrotechnics.

In the summer of 1963, I had the luck to work in the same room as Wolfe at The New York Herald Tribune in  Manhattan. He was in the initial stage of shaking up journalism.

That golden summer, somehow, some of the greats of American journalism found themselves at “The Trib,” a newspaper that had had a history of shaking up journalism and was doing it again.

By 1963 the newspaper was suffering from years of poor business decisions, which had reduced it to near bankruptcy. It had been bought by the billionaire (from oil and other industries and huge inheritances) Jock Whitney to provide a mildly conservative voice to counter the liberal New York Times.

What Whitney got was a cornucopia of newspaper talent.

Probably never before or since have so many gifted wordsmiths been assembled in the same place: a championship season of talent that was to affect journalism for a generation. Altogether Murray “Buddy” Weiss, who was the managing editor, and I calculated, long after the paper had failed, in 1966, that 67 people who worked at the paper went on to major journalistic success. The names included Eugenia Sheppard, Jimmy Breslin, Red Smith and David Laventhol, who later created the Style section of The Washington Post and fired another newspaper revolution.

And sitting there, in the middle of one of long tables where the reporters sat, was one Tom Wolfe, already wearing the white suit which was his trademark all the long years of his success. The tailoring got better over time, but the color remained.

Wolfe got to New York via a Ph.D in American studies from Yale and stints at The Springfield (Mass.) Union and The Washington Post. At both papers editors knew he had talent, but sort of ignored it.

Fortune helped Wolfe along when The Trib was closed by a strike in 1962 and he contracted with Esquire magazine to travel to San Francisco and look at psychedelic paint jobs on cars.

Wolfe discovered the counterculture and Esquire discovered what became known as the New Journalism -- a term that he didn’t really like. When he had difficulty putting his discoveries into traditional journalistic form, his editors told him to send them a memo and they would write it for him.

He did and they published the long, long memo, 49 pages, in full: “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” It was unique in reporting history. It also introduced Wolfe into the world of the counterculture,  which he, along with Hunter Thompson and others, was to chronicle.

But unlike Thompson, Wolfe never joined the counterculture. He reported on it and gave it a language of its own, drawn from how people in the culture spoke, but remained a courtly Virginia gentleman. 

One of the many gifted people at The Trib at the time was Clay Felker, editor of the newspaper’s magazine, which survives today as New York Magazine.

They were made for each other and Wolfe, the reporter and wordsmith, was on his way with Felker guiding and cheering. A collection of Wolfe’s pieces came out in 1965 and the New Journalism became the rage, especially in magazines. Other names like Gail Sheehy, Gay Talese and Joan Didion were soon in the flux.

But Wolfe was the supreme writer and reporter. His masterpiece on the space program and the Mercury 7 astronauts, The Right Stuff, his blockbuster novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities,  and another novel, A Man in Full were all built on meticulous reporting.

Wolfe “pushed out the envelope” – one of the many phrases he has left us with — in reporting, writing and creative punctuation. A few other Wolfeisms: “Me Generation,” “radical chic” and “master of the universe.”

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



Stores into schools

  Empty mall in Tallahassee, Fla.

Empty mall in Tallahassee, Fla.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

As a citylab.com fan, I also can’t resist touting an article headlined “Blue Light Special: The Chicago-area High School in an Old Kmart’’. It tells the story of how a design firm turned an abandoned department store in Waukegan, Ill., into a spiffy, bright school.  There are many old and decayed school buildings in New England – indeed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed a $1 billion plan to fix them over the next five years; best estimates suggest  that $3 billion is needed in that tiny state alone.

But with so many large store buildings around here empty because of Amazon, etc., why not see if some could be converted into school buildings at a lower cost and with better design  than we’d get by renovating existing school buildings. Consider that many New England public  schools are more than 50 years old! Most big-box stores, vacant and otherwise, are younger.

To read more, please hit this link.


Martha Bebinger: Opioid overdoses are surging among Hispanics


By Martha Bebinger

For Kaiser Health News

And NPR and WBUR


The tall, gangly man twists a cone of paper in his hands as stories from nearly 30 years of addiction pour out: the robbery that landed him in prison at age 17; never getting his high school equivalency diploma; going through the horrors of detox, maybe 40 times, including this latest bout, which he finished two weeks ago. He’s now in a residential treatment unit for at least 30 days.

“I’m a serious addict,” said Julio Cesar Santiago, 44. “I still have dreams where I’m about to use drugs, and I have to wake up and get on my knees and pray, ‘Let God take this away from me,’ because I don’t want to go back. I know that if I go back out there, I’m done.”

Santiago has reason to worry. Data on opioid addiction in his home state of Massachusetts show the overdose death rate for Latinos there has doubled in three years, growing at twice the rates of non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks.

Opioid overdose deaths among Latinos are surging nationwide as well. While the overall death toll is still higher for whites, it’s increasing faster for Latinos and blacks, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latino fatalities increased 52.5 percent from 2014 to 2016, compared with 45.8 percent for whites alone. (Statisticians say Hispanic overdose counts are typically underestimated.) The most substantial hike was among blacks: 83.9 percent.

The data portray a changing face of the opioid epidemic.

Rates of fatal opioid overdoses per 100,000 across the U.S. from 2014-2016. Deaths rose 45.8 percent for whites, 52.5 percent for Hispanics and 83.9 percent for blacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Source: CDC; Credit: NPR)

“What we thought initially, that this was a problem among non-Hispanic whites, is not quite accurate,” said Robert Anderson, mortality statistics branch chief at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “If you go back into the data, you can see the increases over time in all of these groups, but we tended to focus on the non-Hispanic whites because the rates were so much higher.”

There’s little understanding about why overdose deaths are rising faster among blacks and Latinos than whites. Some physicians and outreach workers suspect the infiltration of fentanyl into cocaine is driving up fatalities among blacks.

The picture of what’s happening among Latinos has been murky, but interviews with nearly two dozen current and former drug users and their family members, addiction treatment providers and physicians reveal that language and cultural barriers, even fear of deportation, could limit the access of Latinos to lifesaving treatment.

Bilingual Treatment Options Are Scarce

Irma Bermudez, 43, describes herself as a “grateful recovering addict.” She’s living in the women’s residential unit at kaiserhealthnews.org, a collection of day treatment, residential programs and transitional housing in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

Bermudez said the language barrier keeps anyone who can’t read English out of treatment from the start, as they try to decipher Web sites or brochures that advertise options. If they call a number on the screen or walk into an office, “there’s no translation — we’re not going to get nothing out of it,” Bermudez said.

Rates of fatal opioid overdoses per 100,000 from 2014-2016 in Massachusetts. (Source: Massachusetts Department of Health; Credit: NPR)

Some of the Latinos interviewed for this story described sitting through group counseling sessions, part of virtually every treatment program, and not being able to follow much, if any, of the conversation. They recalled waiting for a translator to arrive for their individual appointment with a doctor or counselor and missing the session when the translator is late or doesn’t show up at all.

SAMHSA, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, maintains a Find Treatment website that includes listings of treatment offered in Spanish. But several Massachusetts providers listed there could not say how many translators they have or when they are available. The SAMHSA site is available only in English, with Spanish-language translators available only by phone.

At Casa Esperanza, 100 men are waiting for a spot in the male residential program, so recovery coach Richard Lopez spends a lot of time on the phone trying to get clients into a program he thinks has at least one translator.

After battling with voicemail, said Lopez, he’ll eventually get a call back; the agent typically offers to put Lopez’s client on another waiting list. That frustrates him.

“You’re telling me that this person has to wait two to three months? I’m trying to save this person today,” he said. “What am I going to do, bring these individuals to my house and handcuff them so they don’t do nothing?”

Casa Esperanza Executive Director Emily Stewart said Massachusetts needs a public information campaign via Spanish-language media that explains treatment options. She’d like that to include medication-assisted treatment, which she said is not well understood.

Some research shows Latino drug users are less likely than others to have access to or use the addiction treatment medicines, methadone and buprenorphine. One study shows that may be shifting. But, Latinos with experience in the field said, access to buprenorphine (which is also known by the brand name Suboxone) is limited because there are few Spanish-speaking doctors who prescribe it.

A Matter Of Machismo: ‘It’s Not Cool To Call 911’

Lopez has close ties these days with health care providers, the police and EMT rescue squads. But that has changed dramatically from when he was using heroin. On the streets, he said, “it’s not cool to be calling 911” when a person sees someone overdose. “I could get shot, and I won’t call 911.”

It’s a machismo thing, said Lopez.

“To the men in the house, the word ‘help’ sounds, like, degrading, you know?” he said. Calling 911 “is like you’re getting exiled from your community.”

Santiago said not everyone feels that way. A few men called EMTs to help revive him. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them,” he said.

But Santiago and others say there’s growing fear among Latinos they know of asking anyone perceived as a government agent for help — especially if the person who needs the help is not a U.S. citizen.

“They fear if they get involved they’re going to get deported,” said Felito Diaz, 41.

Bermudez said Latina women have their own reasons to worry about calling 911 if a boyfriend or husband has stopped breathing.

“If they are in a relationship and trying to protect someone, they might hesitate as well,” said Bermudez, if the man would face arrest and possible jail time.

A Tight Social Network

Another reason some Latino drug users said they’ve been hit especially hard by this epidemic: A 2017 DEA report on drug trafficking noted that Mexican cartels control much of the illegal drug distribution in the United States, selling the drugs through a network of local gangs and small-scale dealers.

In the Northeast, Dominican drug dealers tend to predominate.

“The Latinos are the ones bringing in the drugs here,” said Rafael, a man who uses heroin and lives on the street in Boston, close to Casa Esperanza. “The Latinos are getting their hands in it, and they’re liking it.”

Kaiser Health News and NPR agreed not to use Rafael’s last name because he uses illegal drugs.

A resident walks into the Casa Esperanza’s men’s program in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Some Spanish-speaking drug users in the Boston area said they get discounts on the first, most potent cut. Social connection matters, they said.

“Of course, I would feel more comfortable selling to a Latino if I was a drug dealer than a Caucasian or any other, because I know how to relate and get that money off them,” said Lopez.

The social networks of drug use create another layer of challenges for some Latinos, said Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, who treats many patients from Puerto Rico. She primarily works at a clinic affiliated with the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, in New York City.

“The family is such an important unit — it’s difficult, if there is substance use within the family, for people to stop using opioids,” Cunningham said.

The Burden Of Poverty

Though Latinos are hardly a uniform community, many face an additional risk factor for addiction: poverty. About 20 percent of the community live in poverty, compared with 9 percent of whites, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

In Massachusetts, four times as many Latinos live below the poverty line as do whites. The majority of Casa Esperanza clients were recently homeless. The wait time for one of the agency’s 37 individual or family housing units ranges from a year to a decade.

“If you’ve done all the work of getting somebody stabilized and then they leave and don’t have a stable place to go, you’re right back where you started,” said Casa Esperanza’s Stewart.

Cunningham said the Latino community has been dealing with opioid addiction for decades and it is one reason for the group’s relatively high incarceration rate. In Massachusetts, Latinos are sentenced to prison at nearly five times the rate of whites.

“It’s great that we’re now talking about it because the opioid epidemic is affecting other populations,” Cunningham said. “It’s a little bit bittersweet that this hasn’t been addressed years before. But it’s good that we’re talking about treatment rather than incarceration, and that this is a medical illness rather than a moral shortcoming.”

Nationally, says the CDC’s Anderson, there’s no sign that the surge of overdose deaths is abating in any population.

“We’ve already had two years of declining life expectancy in the U.S., and I think that when we see the 2017 data we’ll see a third year,” said Anderson. “That hasn’t happened since the great influenza pandemic in the early 1900s.”

The fatality counts for 2017 are expected out by the end of this year.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Martha Bebinger, WBUR: marthab@wbur.org, @mbebinger