Hard times for hardwood industry

North American Beech tree, an important hardwood

North American Beech tree, an important hardwood

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

NPR recently ran a story of the damage done to the New England hardwood-lumber industry by Trump’s trade war with China, which has, it is true, long been cheating America right and left in trade, most importantly in theft of U.S. firms’ intellectual property. China has imposed hefty retaliatory tariffs on such important species as red oak, ash and cherry.

The bombastic Trump was right to challenge the Chinese on trade but is too ignorant to know how to do it. Unlike some big agribusiness operations in the politically important Midwest (the Iowa caucuses!), the hardwood industry has received little offsetting compensation from the federal government. You don’t think of New England as a big grower of crops but our densely wooded region grows an important amount of high-value trees not growable in most of the world. Trump offers partial reimbursement (from our taxes) of the losses suffered by Midwest agribusiness because of his tariffs; he should do the same for folks in the hardwood business.

Meanwhile, I wonder how the warming climate will affect the mix of trees in New England. Palmettos in Newport in 2050? To read the NPR report, please hit this link.

Olivia Snow Smith: How Wall Street is killing the newspaper business


Via OtherWords.org

Though lacking the size and prestige of The New York Times or The Washington Post, The Storm Lake Times is very important to its readers.

Two years ago, the small, bi-weekly Iowa paper (circulation: 3,000) won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for taking on agricultural water pollution in the state. If it weren’t for vibrant local papers, stories like these might never come to light.

Unfortunately, all over the country, private equity and hedge funds have been scooping up these cash-strapped papers — and looting them into irrelevance or bankruptcy.

Here’s how it works.

Investors put down a fraction of the purchase price and borrow the rest — and then saddle the company with that debt. Layoffs and cutbacks follow, which leads to a shabbier product. Circulation and revenue decline, then more cuts, and the cycle accelerates.

Eventually the paper is a shadow of its former self, or turned to ashes completely. Wall Street wins, the public loses.

Perhaps the most infamous recent example was the breakdown of the 127-year-old Denver Post. Since private equity firm Alden Global acquired the paper, it has cut two out of every three staff positions — twice the industry rate for downsizing.

To add insult to injury, the firm has been using staff pension funds as its own personal piggy bank. In total, they’ve moved nearly $250 million into investment accounts in the Cayman Islands.

Employees who remain grapple with censorship. Last April, Dave Krieger — editorial page editor of Alden’s Boulder Daily Camera — was fired after self-publishing an opinion piece headlined “Private Equity Owners Endanger Daily Camera’s Future.”

In solidarity, Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett resigned, complaining that his publishers were also censoring stories that might offend Alden.

Alden’s Digital First Media runs many other big papers, putting hundreds of newsroom staff at risk of censorship and layoffs. Millions of readers, in turn, may learn only what Alden deems fit for them.

It’s not a new pattern. In 2008, a year after billionaire Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. — publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and other venerable publications — the company filed for bankruptcy, saddled with $13 billion in debt in what’s been called “the deal from hell.”

After it emerged from bankruptcy, the company was left in the hands of — you guessed it — private equity.

The march of these buyout barons continues. This summer, New Media Investment Group (owner of GateHouse Media) announced plans to buy Gannett. The $1.38 billion deal would unite one-sixth of all daily newspapers across the country, affecting 9 million print readers.

New Media anticipates cutting $300 million in costs each year, suggesting layoffs comparable to those at The Denver Post are in the offing — even as the company and its investor owners harvest profits.

This is a crisis. This country lost more than a fifth of its local newspapers between 2004 and 2018, while newspapers lost almost half of their newsroom employees between 2008 and 2018.

A few lawmakers are catching on.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently introduced the Stop Wall Street Looting Act to curb these abuses, with Warren specifically calling out private equity firms for decimating local newspapers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently introduced an ambitious plan of his own, calling for a moratorium on major media mergers and encouraging newsrooms to unionize nationwide.

Newspapers have been critical to American democracy since its founding. By allowing huge corporations to gut newspapers in the name of making a buck, we’re putting a price tag on that democracy when we need it most.

Olivia Snow Smith works for Take On Wall Street. This op-ed was adapted from TakeOnWallSt.com and distributed by OtherWords.org.

Moving ‘em west

North Adams, Mass., in the Berkshires, well past its factory town prosperity.

North Adams, Mass., in the Berkshires, well past its factory town prosperity.

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

Massachusetts state Sen.  Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, has filed a bill in the legislature to reimburse people up to $10,000 for costs associated with moving to one of four counties in the western Bay State and, The Boston Globe reports, “work from home or in a co-working space there.’’ The idea is to get energetic and educated people from prosperous Greater Boston to move to poorer western Massachusetts -- poorer in part because of the long decline in the region’s once thriving manufacturing sector. Senator Lesser hopes that his proposal could help reinvigorate the area, many of whose residents see state government as far too dominated by rich and densely populated Greater Boston.

Senator Lesser got the idea from a similar program now in effect in Vermont, which has so far paid out a modest $125,000 to reimburse folks to move to the thinly populated Green Mountain State. Mr. Lesser’s scheme calls for spending no more than $1 million over three years.

I think that governmental financial incentives, such as special tax breaks or even the aforementioned “bribes’’ to move, have less effect than you might think. Proximity to family, friends and desirable jobs is paramount.
Meanwhile, we’re still at only the start of the climate-refugee era. As scientists discuss regions, such as New England and the Upper Midwest, that will suffer less from accelerating global warming, a few people are leaving such places as Florida’s ever more frequently flooded low-lying coast and Houston’s inundated plains and heading north to live. Their numbers will surge after hurricanes. 


Not the center of the universe?!

Image from the show “Copernicus,’’ in the Bannister Gallery, at Rhode Island College, Providence, through Oct. 25. Curated by Jenny   Chen Jiaying and Frank Wang Yefeng, this exhibition was inspired by Nicolaus Copernicus's  On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres , published in 1543 and the first Western book to challenge geocentrism — the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. By this, he also suggested by implication that humanity is not the center of the universe, either.  “‘Copernicus,’ the gallery says, “provides a new perspective on the world and humanity, dissecting technology, geopolitics, nature and society to question anthropocentrism, centralization and other ideas common among humans. ‘Copernicus’   aims to challenge viewers and have them think about the modern equivalents of the same sort of questions that Copernicus asked hundreds of years ago.’’

Image from the show “Copernicus,’’ in the Bannister Gallery, at Rhode Island College, Providence, through Oct. 25. Curated by Jenny Chen Jiaying and Frank Wang Yefeng, this exhibition was inspired by Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published in 1543 and the first Western book to challenge geocentrism — the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. By this, he also suggested by implication that humanity is not the center of the universe, either.

“‘Copernicus,’ the gallery says, “provides a new perspective on the world and humanity, dissecting technology, geopolitics, nature and society to question anthropocentrism, centralization and other ideas common among humans. ‘Copernicus’ aims to challenge viewers and have them think about the modern equivalents of the same sort of questions that Copernicus asked hundreds of years ago.’’

Rick Dalton: Vermont and other rural areas need a lot more than broadband

Burlington. Vt. harbor, on Lake Champlain

Burlington. Vt. harbor, on Lake Champlain

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

In recent weeks, presidential candidates have pledged billions of dollars to bring broadband and Internet access to rural America. Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and other Democratic hopefuls correctly realize that a lack of high-speed internet and other attendant technologies has profoundly affected rural economies.

That’s a good start: Poor infrastructure derails job creation, which pushes youth to seek their futures in urban centers. Then as the population shrinks, our rural communities are even less likely to garner the necessary investments that result in jobs.

But the issue that the candidates need to address goes far beyond technology. The 2016 election exposed an urban-rural divide that is consigning our smallest communities to second-tier status. It’s troubling that no candidate has begun to identify a strategy to concentrate on a more sweeping problem: More and more young people in our nation’s rural communities look at their hometowns and realize those places simply can’t support their dreams.

Living in a town of 600 residents, and as the leader of a national organization called CFES Brilliant Pathways, I see the challenges rural America faces every day. CFES works in the nation’s smallest and largest school districts, from Hawaii to New York City, and over the last decade, rural students have fallen further and further behind their urban peers.

In cities, students look around and see possibilities for the future. In rural areas, youth look around and see Main Streets shuttered, disappearing jobs and decreasing populations. Rural youth also are more likely to drink alcohol, vape and become addicted to opioids. As one principal of a rural school in the Adirondack region of New York State told me recently, “Our kids have fewer healthy outlets today. It’s no wonder so many are increasingly involved in risky behaviors.”

Every one of the 125 rural schools our organization has worked with in the past decade has seen its student populations drop, some by more than 60%. These enrollment plunges cause budget cuts and a scarcity of new programs, opportunities and teachers.

The story is different in urban America, where students benefit from programs supported by government, business and private dollars. Urban kids have daily access to Teach For America, Boys & Girls Clubs and myriad other resources and services.

From our headquarters in Essex, N.Y., we look across Lake Champlain at Vermont, the state with the highest percentage of rural residents in the nation. Like other rural states, Vermont has high secondary school graduation numbers, but low college going. Because not enough young Vermonters will have the postsecondary education and training they need, leaders there project a shortfall of 132,000 job-ready workers across the state by 2025. In response, Vermont has an ambitious goal to increase the share of citizens with postsecondary degrees from 60% to 70%. The need is similar in other rural states, but Vermonters are taking action by recognizing the problem and endorsing a solution.

We know opportunity lies in what’s ahead, not in looking back. CFES helps every one of its scholars build a pathway to college and career readiness, through mentoring, development of essential skills, and ongoing exposure to postsecondary education and jobs.

Through a program called Rural Forward, CFES Brilliant Pathways will raise $10 million from corporations, individuals and foundations to support 100 rural schools in needy communities over the next five years. Additionally, Rural Forward will recruit 100 business and 100 college partners who will provide another $10 million of in-kind support, including workshops on admissions and how to pay for college, tuition assistance, mentors, internships and job shadowing. The program will directly help 100,000 rural students become college and career ready, and serve another 500,000 indirectly.

This is happening in an environment where college has become increasingly difficult to sell to rural families who are worried about rising costs and who know that when sons and daughters finish college, they may need to move to urban centers to earn the money they’ll need to pay off loans.

Over the election cycle of the next 14 months, we are going to hear a great deal about the urban-rural schism, which will further expose a sector of our population that has been left behind in a world of exponential change.

CFES hopes to join with government leaders and others in providing a comprehensive and tested strategy to fix a vexing problem threatening our nation. Together we can meet the challenge. The alternative will harm not just our rural communities and residents, but all of us who call America home.

Rick Dalton is founder and CEO of CFES Brilliant Pathways.

Noxious vapors

Various e-smoking devices, including a disposable e-cigarette, a rechargeable e-cigarette, a medium-size tank device, large-size tank devices, an e-cigar and an e-pipe.    — Wikipedia image

Various e-smoking devices, including a disposable e-cigarette, a rechargeable e-cigarette, a medium-size tank device, large-size tank devices, an e-cigar and an e-pipe.

— Wikipedia image

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

Considering the delicious hypocrisy involved in such things, I got a chuckle out of the debate over whether to stop the sale of vaping products because of illnesses associated with the stuff.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has imposed a four-month ban on the sale of these products in the commonwealth, during which time the health hazards associated with them will be studied. A little late, eh? And Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has directed the state Department of Health to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Governor Baker said: “The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding, and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people.’’ There’s no sense of irony, despite the fact that regular tobacco cigarettes are perfectly legal for adults to buy and far more dangerous than e-cigarettes! Can I buy you a pack of lung cancer and emphysema? But then, the states want the tax money from the sale of the old-fashioned cigs.

Likewise, most states take in vast quantities of money from lotteries and, increasingly, casino operations. Politicians love gambling-related revenue, as they love cigarette taxes, because it helps them avoid raising broad-based taxes. But I suspect that the full social costs of state-promoted gambling in crime, family breakups, bankruptcies, etc., far, far outweigh the revenue benefits of states getting into bed with casino operators and companies such as IGT that serve the gambling industry.

And the entire sector is, by the nature of its services and relations with government, intrinsically corrupt. It’s also highly regressive since desperate poorer people tend to gamble far more than the affluent do.

And poorer people tend to smoke more than richer ones, in part to treat the anxiety associated with economic insecurity and low status.

Collage as constant change

Work by Margaret Hart, in her show “Situated Becomings,’’ at Kingston Gallery, Boston, through October.    The gallery says: “Hart’s work explores the political nature of collage, embedded in its earliest iterations within the Western art historical canon. Using imagery from science and popular culture, Hart harnesses this inherent nature to deepen contemporary discussions of gender and technology, leading to a creative practice of collage as ‘becoming,’ understood most simply as a constant state of change.’’

Work by Margaret Hart, in her show “Situated Becomings,’’ at Kingston Gallery, Boston, through October.

The gallery says: “Hart’s work explores the political nature of collage, embedded in its earliest iterations within the Western art historical canon. Using imagery from science and popular culture, Hart harnesses this inherent nature to deepen contemporary discussions of gender and technology, leading to a creative practice of collage as ‘becoming,’ understood most simply as a constant state of change.’’

Hart’s work explores the political nature of collage, embedded in its earliest iterations within the Western art historical canon. Using imagery from science and popular culture, Hart harnesses this inherent nature to deepen contemporary discussions of gender and technology, leading to a creative practice of collage as “becoming,” understood most simply as a constant state of change.

UMaine Augusta campus aims to be cybersecurity center.


From The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com)

The University of Maine in Augusta (UMA) has opened the Maine Cyber Range to train their students, as well as Maine residents and businesses, to get ahead of fast-changing cyber threats. The training center’s curriculum will prepare learners to fill hundreds of thousands of needed cyber security positions across the U.S.

UMA partnered with CyberBit, a global cyber range firm, to develop their training center. Chief Operating Officer of CyberBit, Gilad Weitman said the partnership would be a “game changer for the state of Maine and New England,” adding that the U.S. is short 300,000 cyber security professionals trained to respond to a modern attack, and at least 14,000 are needed in New England. UMA’s Maine Cyber Range will train students and professionals with the exact same tools they would use in the work place. UMA President Rebecca Wyke noted that cybersecurity is the fastest growing program at the University and the new training center is a continuation of that growth. Senator Angus King of Maine attended the Cyber Range opening to commend UMA for being at the forefront of teaching cybersecurity as “it is not something every college in America is doing.”

“The opening of this training center continues UMA’s mission of providing quality educational opportunities that help fill workforce needs with well-trained graduates for in-demand, highly skilled positions,” said President Wyke.

David Warsh: Republican recess

Patrick J. Buchanan, who helped set in motion what led to Trumpism

Patrick J. Buchanan, who helped set in motion what led to Trumpism



Not surprisingly, he quickly deleted the post. What the GOP stands for is not a conversation he wants to encourage.  It will, however, be on many minds as members of Congress head home for a two-week recess.

The conventional view among Democrats is that Trump has pretty completely taken possession of the Republican Party. Reviewing American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, by Tim Alberta, (Harper, 2019), in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz  dismisses Alberta for his “ingenuousness and lack of historical depth.”

The pioneer of Trump-style Republicanism — isolationist, protectionist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant – was former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Wilentz writes. Buchanan’s speech opposing the nomination of George H.W. Bush at the Republican convention of 1992 anticipated Trump almost word for word, he says. The positions each took descended directly from the views of Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, whose candidacy the GOP swept aside in 1952 in favor of nominating Dwight Eisenhower.

Much of the wreckage Trump has caused is simply the expression of his willingness to pursue long-standing Republican policies while coarsening the polarizing politics practiced by the George W. Bush White House. Any number of historians, political scientists, and journalists have chronicled the long history of the Republican Party’s decay, but you won’t find it in Alberta. He would prefer that Trumpism be something other than Republicanism, not its culmination.

As a life-long Democratic voter, I. too, prefer that Trump turns out to be the exception, not the rule. It seems important to remember – Wilentz doesn’t – that two of the finest American achievements of the last 35 years were engineered by Republican administrations operating in the Eisenhower tradition: the end of the Cold War, “and the escape from the Panic of 2008.  Recognize, too, that senior veterans of those GOP administrations have taken the lead in proposing revenue-neutral carbon taxation as a response to the crisis of global warming.

Yes, the Republicans have also given us plenty to regret: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wholesale budget irresponsibility, health care intransigence.  But the campaign that John McCain led in 2008 was much in line with mainstream post-war Republican traditions,

What are the chances that the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bush wing of the party will reassert itself and take the reins away from Donald Trump?  During the next two weeks, Republican Congressional leaders will sample opinion in their districts and search their own souls while Democratic counterparts prepare hearings that are expected to lead to a bill of impeachment. The mainstream press will continue to ferret out details.

What are the chances significant numbers of Republicans will return to Washington prepared to vote against the president?  What will happen if they do – or if they don’t?  Washington Post columnist Meghan McArdle was right when she wrote last week  that “a clear majority of public opinion” must back impeachment if it is to succeed – not a mere plurality or even a slim margin.

But opinion doesn’t move just autonomously, in response to what voters read or see or hear on the news. It must also be galvanized or rallied by political leaders.  The Democrats have ventured the opening gambit. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a stout Trump defender, sought to stiffen the backs of House Republicans as they left left town.  How will they feel when they return? The first skirmishes of a battle for control of the future of the Republican Party begin next month..

Trump famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”   We’ll see if that hyperbolic self-confidence will apply to his latest act of self-sabotage.

David Warsh, an economic historian and veteran columnist, is proprietor of Somerville-based economicprincipals.com, where this essay first appeared.


'A day of humiliation and prayer' needed


“The important point of this report [Montague, Massachusetts; July 7, 1774] may be summed up in six resolutions: 1. We approve of the plan for a Continental Congress September 1, at Philadelphia. 2. We urge the disuse of India teas and British goods. 3. We will act for the suppression of pedlers and petty chapmen (supposably vendors of dutiable wares). 4. And work to promote American manufacturing. 5. We ought to relieve Boston. 6. We appoint the 14th day of July, a day of humiliation and prayer.”

From Edward Pearson Pressey’s History of Montague; A Typical Puritan Town

Montague Center in 1907

Montague Center in 1907

Don Pesci: Food fight in Connecticut



Kevin Rennie wondered in his blog “Daily Ructions” why, under “the grocery tax set to take effect Oct. 1, six bagels won't be subject to the higher sales tax, but five bagels will, because they're considered to be prepared foods for immediate consumption.” And he then proposed a solution to the conundrum: “The legislature needs to change this law.”

Gov. Ned Lamont, Rennie wrote, is attempting “to erase the advantage grocery stores that sell prepared foods have over restaurants,” an alibi that seemed to him suspect. If Lamont were at all worried about the restaurant business in Connecticut, “he would not have singled it out for an increase in the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent. He wanted the money more than he cared about the cost of dining out and its consequences for restaurant owners, workers and patrons.”

And, truly, if Lamont and his handlers were worried about equity alone, the governor and the tax hungry crowd of Democratic progressives in the General Assembly could as easily adjust the disturbing inequity by eliminating both the restaurant and the grocery tax, leaving Rennie to buy his bagels at the grocery store without being harassed by Connecticut’s frothing tax man.

This is not likely because dominant Democrats in the General Assembly whose thirst for more tax dollars is never assuaged by tax increases are once again fighting a perpetual and losing battle against rising state employee salary and benefit increases and expanding “fixed costs,” according to the Yankee Institute.

Over at CTMirror, Mark Pazniokas honed in on the problem, which appears to have been caused by a statutory glitch: “At issue is the impact of two words in the new budget, ‘grocery store,’ on a longstanding interpretation by state tax collectors of one word, ‘meal.’

A June provision in the state budget “increases the sales tax on meals by one percentage point, from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent.” Nothing untoward there; the Lamont administration consistently has raised or extended taxes far beyond the tolerance levels of most people. The erratic toll proposals championed by Lamont and his progressive abettors in the Democrat dominated General Assembly have been temporarily derailed by a populist uprising, the “No Tolls” movement, but hope springs eternal, and the move to plaster the state with toll gantries is still very much alive, though quiescent.

The problem, Pazniokas tells us, is that “the new law lumps in grocery stores with restaurants and caterers when it comes to the taxation of meals, and while the meaning of the word “meal” has not been changed, the new law offers a troubling gloss: “A meal as defined in this subsection includes food products which are sold on a ‘take out’ or ‘to go’ basis and which are actually packaged or wrapped.” Hence, a head of lettuce bought at a grocery store is not taxable, while lettuce in a bag is taxable.

Now, a workable solution to the problem would require a re-write of the law.

No, says president pro tem of the state Senate Martin Looney. “The call for a special session is just the Republicans being alarmist and grandstanding.” Looney is one of the two tax famished progressive gate-keepers in the General Assembly – the other is House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz – who determine which bills will clutter the legislative calendar. Both rather like ambiguous laws that provide masterful Democrat leaders with great maneuverability.

Lewis Carroll the author of “Through The Looking Glass,” provided some guidance to the problem of mis-definition in a discussion Alice has with Humpty Dumpty.

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Democrat progressives in the General Assembly know and obey their masters, while some Democratic moderates silently resist the lash. But the problem outlined above is entirely political and statutory. Even progressives subscribe to the notion that whatever you tax tends to disappear, which is why they approve taxes on cancer causing cigarettes and fossil fuel products. Their faux “surprise” at the public uproar caused by their clever statutory gloss is entirely contrived.

But it now appears that any remedy short of throwing Humpty Dumpty down from the wall will not be sufficient. Legislative masters of the universe fear only votes, and they know they have a safe number of them in their pockets.

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon.

Llewellyn King: Watch out for drone invasion of cities



There is a push to commercialize drones that equals any gold rush. Hundreds of drone makers, drone service companies and drone management firms are creating new machines, divining new uses, and planning to increase the penetration of their devices or services in a marketplace that is burgeoning. Although dominated by DJI, the giant Chinese drone company with seven locations in the United States alone, there are hundreds of drone companies keen to get in on the action.

The drone takeover of the skies is not a thing of science fiction and Popular Mechanics anymore. It is real and it has begun. Soon the skies in cities will be getting as crowded as the highways of Washington and Los Angeles.

In the world of drones, the big struggle now is to increase the payloads. But the real value maybe in their ability to collect and process huge amounts of data – an essential part of the “smart cities” of the future. Former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said data is the new oil and drones are the new oil wells.

Drones and autonomous vehicles are destined to be integral to smart cities, with different entrants pursing different goals. Uber Eats wants dinners for families of four to be wafted aloft by drones. Amazon wants drones that can carry loads of various sizes and shapes. Google wants to own the control technology.

Everyone wants the data.

City managers, police departments, motor vehicle departments and first responders want data. Marketers and homebuilders want data about how we live and travel -- and even what we do when we are not between working and getting home.

Smart cities will run on data and drones will be part of the data-acquisition infrastructure. Morgan O’Brien, co-founder of Nextel Communications, Inc. and now president of Anterix, a company providing secure communications to utilities and others, tells me that data will be the foundation of smart cities.

“A smart city is ‘smart’ in the same way a smartphone is smart. Collecting and processing vast amounts of digital data in virtual real time, a smartphone collects a user to the internet for voice, texting, video and experiences of every sort,” O’Brien said, adding, “The smart city similarly will collect vast amounts of data and virtually simultaneously process that data to make the city safer, more livable, more green and more pleasant.”

This data will be collected from a myriad of sensors, including those on drones: the eyes in the sky.

Carl Berndtson, managing director of Confex Partners Ltd., a Concord, Mass.-based commercial conference organizer, expects 2,500 people at a drone conference which will be held on Oct. 28-30 in Las Vegas. Confex is part of the giant “Drone Week” early in December in Amsterdam, where 3,000 drone entrepreneurs and engineers are expected.

Of course, to keep all those goods-delivering, data-gathering, unmanned vehicles from crashing into each other, a sophisticated micro-air traffic control system will be needed -- something far beyond today’s macro system that keeps large aircraft safe. One company, AirMap of Santa Monica, Calif., claims to be well along the way in developing a control system, but there are others and governments will have the essential role.

Drones will come in many sizes and shapes, from drone taxis whipping us about to worker-bee drones, like the ones already employed to inspect electric power lines and hammer nails into shingles on roofs.

In the 1967 film The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate, was advised to go into plastics. Today he might be advised to go into drones.

The drone industry has taken off and is headed for where you live and work. Watch your head.

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.

Linda Gasparello

Co-host and Producer

"White House Chronicle" on PBS

Breast art in New Bedford


“Muro” (hand-embroidered breasts. site-specific installation), by Raquel Paiewonsky, in her show “InsideOut,’’ at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Art Gallery (in New Bedford) through Oct. 28.

The gallery says:

“As an artist, Raquel Paiewonsky is both bold and subtle. She wraps the edges of heavy bricks in patterned fabric, softening the impact of the wall, perceived as a ‘male’ element. Connections, community, softness, all seen as female attributes are a part of her work, while the ‘Muro’ tells a story about gender imbalance within society or within ourselves. This soft sculpture/installation, which has its own space at the University Art Gallery, consists of 2,000 hand-embroidered breasts of different skin tones. It is the super-mother of all mothers, the feminine wit, a critical commentary towards a society that she describes as driven by economic need and greed. Raquel is also questioning stereotypes and expectations in her photography. Her images are surprising, imaginative, personal, playful, as well as thoughtful. A tall dress made out of cleaning rags monumentalizes the woman, the cleaner, so often overlooked. Her video ‘Isopolis ‘ invites viewers for an unexpected journey to sand dunes and a beach, following a group of performers telling a story of inclusion and conventions, full of symbolism without words.

Even though Paiewonsky draws from her experience as an artist in the Dominican Republic, her message rings loud and clear to a perceptive visitor of any origin, race, or gender. We invite you to immerse yourself in the magic world of ‘InsideOut’ — to experience, to question, to feel Paiewonsky’s (and now also your) imaginary world. “

Negin Owliaei: No one should have to bargain for health care


Via OtherWords.org

Nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers began striking earlier this month, demanding that General Motors pay them their fair share of the billions in profits the company raked in last year.

The response from General Motors was shocking. The automaker, which accepted billions in government bailouts during the last recession, cut off its payment of insurance premiums for the striking workers.

As the news broke, former Vice President Joe Biden was at an AFL-CIO event, campaigning against a single-payer Medicare for All plan that would replace employer-provided insurance. “You’ve broken your neck to get it,” Biden told the crowd. “You’ve given up wages to keep it. And no plan should be able to take it away.”

But what if that’s actually the problem? Why should union workers — or anyone — be breaking their necks to get health care, a basic human right?

Health care has been a constant subject of debate among Democratic presidential candidates. Biden and others have argued that a single-payer system would be unfair to union workers who’ve taken pay cuts in exchange for better health care plans.

But, as GM showed, our current system turns health coverage into leverage for employers. What could unions could fight for if they didn’t have to constantly play defense against employers trying to gut their health care?

If we already had Medicare for All, the United Auto Workers could be using their collective power to fight for higher wages and better benefits. Instead, GM gets to use the health of its employees as a bargaining chip.

Auto workers aren’t the only union workers fighting for health coverage.

West Virginia teachers kicked off a strike wave last year thanks, in large part, to their own fight over insurance. The state offered educators two options: use a fitness-tracking app that forced them to earn a certain number of fitness points, or watch their premiums rise. They chose to strike instead.

Meanwhile, Americans already lose their health insurance all the time. That’s actually one of the biggest problems with the health care system as it stands.

Tying health care to employment is a terrible idea. In addition to failing anyone without a full-time job, it forces people to stay in bad positions just to keep their coverage. And when workers lose their jobs, they lose their insurance too.

That wouldn’t happen under Medicare for All, which would allow workers to make decisions about leaving a job or working part-time without panicking over their insurance coverage.

Then there’s the cost.

Health insurance alone makes up, on average, 8 percent of total wages and benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But workers are seeing their share of the costs rise at a higher rate than their wages. They’re getting stuck with a larger chunk than ever before.

Data shows that this burden falls heaviest on low-wage workers, who are already forced to spend a much higher share of their income on extra costs like premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

By contrast, the Medicare for All plan now before Congress would cover all medically necessary services without co-pays and deductibles — an advantage critics like Biden rarely address.

Right now, the U.S. spends about two times as much as other high-income countries on health care, only to have poorer health outcomes. It’s obvious that the current system isn’t working — for union workers, or for anyone else.

No one should have to bargain for a human right.

Negin Owliaei is a researcher and co-editor of Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Using AI to manipulate “news’’ video and other threats to fact-based journalism

Silver    didrachma    from    Crete    depicting    Talos   , an ancient mythical    automaton    with artificial intelligence.

Silver didrachma from Crete depicting Talos, an ancient mythical automaton with artificial intelligence.

To members and friends of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations







or send a message on your plans to:


The PCFR meets at the Hope Club, 6 Benevolent St., Providence.

PCFR evenings start at 6 with drinks, dinner by about 6:40, the talk (usually 35-40 minutes) by about dessert, followed by Q&A. Evening ends by no later than 9. People can repair to the bar after that if they wish.


Roger Warburton: Images of a flooded Nantucket

Marty Hylton’s image of Easy and Broad streets, Nantucket, in 2040

Marty Hylton’s image of Easy and Broad streets, Nantucket, in 2040

His image of the same intersection in 2100

His image of the same intersection in 2100

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

NEWPORT, R.I. — Marty Hylton is an architect by training. Therefore, unlike many climate scientists, his images are visually arresting.

Consider Hylton’s image of Easy and Broad streets in Nantucket, Mass.

The audience at the Sept. 18 lecture was stunned to learn that the above image and those below weren’t photographs, but digital reconstructions of Hylton’s data.

Hylton was lecturing in Newport, aka “The City by the Sea,’’ about the lessons learned from the Resilient Nantucket model. His lecture was co-sponsored by the city and the Newport Restoration Foundation.

He was charming with a dry sense of humor that kept the audience enthralled. He admitted that his family owned a coal mine in Kentucky and that he is now working to pay off the carbon dioxide debt he feels responsible for.

Resilient Nantucket is an initiative to digitally document the historic town, its waterfront, and Brandt Point. The initiative is a collaboration of the town of Nantucket, the Nantucket Preservation Trust and the University of Florida’s Preservation Institute Nantucket.

Nantucket has one of the nation’s largest historic landmark districts, with more than 800 structures from before 1860. Hylton is working with Nantucket to protect its valuable historical, cultural, and architectural assets. This work requires identifying and understanding threats from sea-level rise, raising awareness, and engaging residents and stakeholders.

Hylton and his students spent the summer on Nantucket using laser scanners to collect data on building and land coordinates and elevations. These are augmented by students traipsing around and visually collecting data on foundations, structural materials, utility systems and the age and condition of the buildings.

These data inform the development and implementation of adaptation strategies. The 3-D visualizations, in particular, help to communicate sea-level rise projections, their impacts, and to raise awareness of threats.

The project has already resulted in a series of striking sea-level rise visualizations.

The above scenario is based on conservative National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate projections that are considered the gold standard in climate models.

The dramatic images here are just part of the story. An equally important aspect of Hylton’s work is to help the Town of Nantucket assess flood vulnerabilities of the various building types.

After his lecture, Hylton was peppered with questions about how his work applied to Newport. He patiently answered questions for another hour.

In the room, there was palpable sense that Newport was behind Nantucket. Hylton had provided valuable lessons.

Roger Warburton, Ph.D., is a Newport resident.