Llewellyn King: Embellishing Irishness far from Ireland


The Irish are an accommodating people. Well, not in everything but in some things. They share their culture with the world. Then they incorporate into Irish life modifications that other nations, especially the United States, have made.

Take St. Patrick’s Day. It was traditionally a dour day of religious observance in Ireland. Then Irish Americans turned it into the festival that we celebrate here. And now St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland much the way it is here: joyously.

Likewise, corned beef and cabbage. That was a cheap dish that got its Irish identification among the poor immigrants in New York. It wasn’t a tradition in Ireland, where thick bacon, lamb and salmon, served with an astonishing array of potato options, is standard fare along with battered cod -- fish and chips the rest of the world. But in an accommodation to visitors, corned beef and cabbage can now be had in the big hotels.

A word about those potatoes: If you can think of preparation for potatoes, you might find them offered. Never, in my experience, are less than three varieties available in a restaurant. At a banquet once, I was offered a choice of chips (French fries) duchess, sautéed, boiled, croquette, mashed, and scalloped.

What isn’t seen in Irish restaurants are baked potatoes –although, to please visitors, they may be sneaking into the hotels. In my nearly four decades of annual travels in Ireland, I learned that baked potatoes, known as jacket potatoes, are street food -- to bought with all sorts of great fillings from stalls, food trucks and the like, not in restaurants and pubs.

Irish stew is also less common than you would expect.

The Irish do drink, but in their own way. As Ireland has become a modern, competitive country, people are drinking less. But drinking is part of the fabric of daily life, just as drinking coffee, tea (hot or iced) and soft drinks might be elsewhere. You do business in Ireland over a drink, celebrate with a drink, mourn with a drink and, well, just have a drink because that’s what you do between what you just did and what you’re going to do. A breather, you might say.

For 20 years, I was the American organizer for an Irish summer school. Summer schools -- there are more than two dozen -- are more like themed think tanks which meet only in the summer, often just for a long weekend. They cover literature, music, politics and are named accordingly, like the Yeats International Summer School and the Parnell Summer School.

The one my wife and I were affiliated with was the Humbert International Summer School, named for the French general sent to Ireland in 1798 to help with the uprising against the British, which was put down brutally by Gen. Cornwallis, fresh from his American defeat. Humbert was sent back to France -- the English not having a beef with the French at that moment. He had an affair with Napoleon’s sister and was ordered to New Orleans, where he passed his days drinking with Jean Lafitte, the French pirate and privateer, teaching French and living his exiled life in style. He did fight bravely in the Battle of New Orleans and helped the American forces with his military skill. He died in New Orleans and is buried there.

Back to the welcoming of American embellishments to Irish traditions. These are not resented in Ireland because of the great affinity of the Irish have with their 35 million or so kinsmen in the United States. The Irish enjoy the American stage and screen songs of Ireland, like “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The Little People of Ireland’s folklore are beginning to look like Disney’s Seven Dwarfs.

That doesn’t mean that the Little People are not alive and well, it’s just that their presence has been enhanced by legends that came from Hollywood as much as from the Auld Sod. A friend of mine built a wall around his mother’s retirement house in Cork. But her neighbors insisted that it have a gap for the Little People to go through -- so it has a gap.

As for the fairies, my wife and I were riding in northwest Ireland and our guide told us it was all right to ride through a copse, but we shouldn’t the horses disturb the fairy circle there. He rode around the copse to be sure he didn’t upset the fairies.

Despite the drink, the Little People and the fairies, Ireland is the computing capital of Europe and hopes to take over as a financial center after Britain loses many banking houses due to Brexit.

Sláinte! That’s the equivalent of cheers as you raise a glass. Do that Sunday or the Little People, or the fairies, or your Irish friends may be upset. You’ve been warned.

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

Royals and broken Brexit; Flooding north; Battles in Brazil; Taiwan & China


At the PCFR: The Royals Close Up; Why They Flee Honduras; Brazil’s New Boss; Trading With and Tension in Taiwan

Herewith some upcoming talks at the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (;, which are held at the Hope Club. Please consult for information on how to join the organization and other information about the organization.

On Thursday, March 14, comes Miguel Head, now a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. He spent the past decade as a senior adviser to the British Royal Family. He joined the Royal Household as Press Secretary to Prince William and Prince Harry before being appointed in 2012 as their youngest ever Chief of Staff.

Previously, Mr. Head was Chief Press Officer at the UK Ministry of Defense, and worked for the Liberal Democrat party in the European Parliament. While at the Shorenstein Center, Mr. Head is doing research into how social inequalities in Britain are fomenting the politics of division (which helped lead to the Brexit vote) and how non-political leadership, working collaboratively with traditional and digital media, can play a role in bringing disparate communities together. At the PCFR, he’ll talk about those things as well comment on the past and current role of the Royal Family, and, indeed, life with the Royals.


At the April 4 PCFR dinner, James Nealon, the former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, will talk about Central America in general and Honduras in particular, with a focus on the conditions leading so many people there to try to flee to the United States – and what the U.S. can and should do about it.

A career Foreign Service officer, Nealon held posts in Canada, Uruguay, Hungary, Spain, and Chile before assuming his post as Ambassador to Honduras in August 2014; Nealon also served as the deputy of John F. Kelly, while Kelly was in charge of the United States Southern Command.

After leaving his ambassadorship in 2017, Nealon was appointed assistant secretary for international engagement at the Department of Homeland Security by Kelly in July. During his time as assistant secretary, Nealon supported a policy of deploying Homeland Security agents abroad. He resigned his post on Feb. 8, 2018, due to his disagreements with the immigration policy of Donald Trump, and, specifically, the withdrawal of temporary protected status for Hondurans.


Then, on April 10, the speaker will be Prof. James Green, who will talk about the political and economic forces that have led to the election of Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro – and hazard some guesses on what might happen next.

Professor Green is the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Latin American History, director of Brown’s Brazil Initiative, Distinguished Visiting Professor (Professor Amit) at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, and the Executive Director of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA), which is now housed at the Watson Institute at Brown.

Green served as the director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown University from 2005 to 2008. He was president of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) from 2002 until 2004, and president of the New England Council on Latin American Studies (NECLAS) in 2008 and 2009.


The PCFR hopes to announce a May speaker soon

On June 4, Douglas Hsu, a senior Taiwanese diplomat who currently oversees that nation’s interests in New England, will speak to us about Chinese military and other threats against Taiwan, and other matters, including doing business in Taiwan. That country, by the way, is among Rhode Island’s largest export markets.

Llewellyn King: Europe and democracy under dark clouds

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.


]There is not a dark cloud hanging over Europe. There are a bunch of them. Taken together they account for a sense of foreboding, not quite despair, but a definite feeling that things are unraveling and, worse, that there is no leadership – second-raters at all the national helms. That was the near consensus at the annual Congress of the Association of European Journalists here in lovely Western Greece.

In a class by itself in worries in Europe is Russia. It is creating trouble all over Europe, but especially in the countries the comprised the former Soviet Union. It has a propaganda effort the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Cold War -- except modern technology and its social media manifestation have made it more deadly, surreptitious and deniable. The problem is one which affects news organizations directly. Fake events vie with pernicious posting on social media and relentless cyber-undermining of systems and processes.

Disparaging democracy seems to be a primary Russian goal, making it appear unworkable.

When will Russia move from soft war to hard war? The current standoff over Crimea augers badly for vulnerable Russian neighbors particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They are battling massive Russian undermining of truth and wonder whether they will fall again to the Russian bear.

Add to this fear a new dynamic: What will America do if Russia moves? The fear is it will do nothing. President Trump’s haranguing of the other NATO allies is not reassuring to them.

After the existential worries about Russia, comes Brexit. It is here and now. It is, in the eyes of continentals, a ghastly mistake that is going to cost all of Europe dearly. And what for? The vague shibboleth of “sovereignty.” Euros remain sadly hopeful that somehow there will be a second referendum in Britain and that everything will be as it was: Britain being a stabilizer among the 28 nations that make up the European Union.

Since Britain’s entry in 1973, it has been a fundamental side of an iron triangle of the three big economies: Germany, France and Britain. Britain has been an older sibling, the sensible one. Now the odds are that it will be gone, headed for an uncertain future leaving behind the wreckage of a broken marriage and squandered hope for what Tony Blair, the former Labor prime minister, used to call the “European Project.”

Hungary and the ultra-right policies of Viktor Orban are a very great worry in Europe. Similarly, Poland’s shift to the right and the success of right-wing, near fascist parties across Europe, including Austria (heretofore a center of cautious reasonableness), add to the sense of disintegration.

Two other worries are France and Italy. Along with Hungary and Poland, Italy, with an amalgamated government of the ultra-right and ultra-left, looks as determined as the other two to thumb its nose at the European Union and its rules, maybe to withdraw even. Hungary does it over press freedom and human rights, Italy over fiscal probity and open hostility to the EU.

France is a different story. Emmanuel Macron, the young president was, briefly, the great hope of Europe, but his popularity at home has slid and he has had to turn back his ambitious reforms after street demonstrations, violence and fatalities.

Add to all this shifting sand the uncertain future in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out and, suddenly, she seems a more desirable leader than she was thought to be during her tenure.

Feeding the swing to the right and as far from resolution today as it was when it began, illegal immigration is an undermining pressure, un-addressed on the left and exploited on the right.

Meanwhile, across Europe press freedom is teetering: a big issue at this congress. As a Bulgarian delegate said to me, “When the press goes, so goes democracy.” Then she added, “We thought that, in some way, America would help, but not now. We are on our own.”

Europe will have a fine Christmas -- it does Christmas so well. Next year though, some of the stresses may reach breaking point and the carols will have given way to uglier, discordant notes.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is

Llewellyn King: Brexiteers have no clear road map so it's fear and chaos for business

Anti-Brexit demonstration in Birmingham, England.

Anti-Brexit demonstration in Birmingham, England.


Blimey! What a cock-up!

That is what you might say in British vernacular about the mess that Britain is dealing with as it struggles to leave the European Union by March 29, 2019.

With the deadline in clear line of sight, there is no exit plan and Britain is becoming -- depending on whom in the Great British Divide you ask – either critically alarmed or hysterically impatient.

British industry and the whole import-export infrastructure are in panic. Supply lines need to be adjusted and possibly new ones established. Manufacturers are wondering whether it will be possible to continue as Britain-based or whether they should up and move to Europe. The British motor industry, which is not owned in the United Kingdom any longer, is a case in point. Jaguar and Land Rover may be iconic marques, but they are Indian-owned, and will they always be made in Coventry, England? Can London remain the financial center of Europe when Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt are scrambling for the title?

On the impatient side, Brexiteers are screaming for an end to the European linkage no matter what.

In the middle, and in a muddle, is Prime Minister Teresa May, distrusted by the extreme Brexit supporters and considered incompetent by the “Remainers,” who still hope that there will be a miraculous reprieve from the referendum vote of June 29, 2016.

Collectively, the British media are not helpful. Most of the press (especially but not exclusively those newspapers controlled by Rupert Murdoch) is for leaving, often vociferously so. When it appeared, in the latest development, that more time may be granted for Britain to find solutions to the thorniest issues, such as the Irish border question, they howled in unison for faster action.

The newspapers, representing almost the entire readership of daily newspapers in Britain, have fought for Brexit and fight against reconsideration: The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Sun are adamantly and relentlessly for Britain getting out, mostly with little regard to the consequences.

You cannot consider these newspapers without understanding that they have played the same role as Fox News in the United States in inflaming nationalism and worries about sovereignty -- a word that has been taken out of history’s locker for the purpose of stirring up antagonism to Europe.

The newspapers I have cited have been aggressively antagonistic to Europe for decades and were, it could be argued, decisive in the “advisory” referendum in which the British public voted to leave Europe by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. The die was cast for the most extraordinary change of direction ever voted by a democracy.

The Brexiteers had the advantage of passion, a well-oiled disinformation campaign and the wild-card endorsement of Boris Johnson, the clownish but clever politician who wants to be prime minister beyond all else. David Cameron’s government, which called the referendum, misjudged the electorate through over-reliance on the polls.

Hopes that Parliament will finally assert itself, take charge of Brexit and call another referendum or nullify the first on the grounds that it was not constitutionally binding, are fading. There is wide acceptance in Britain that the nation is set to sail into waters uncharted -- stormy but somehow having the lure of the nation’s explorer past.

Economists are not so sure, and business is looking at decampment to the European mainland.

The Brexiteers see a glowing new era for Britain, which shed its empire with little pain at home, and they may feel this will happen again. British creativity has always been one of its great strengths; for example, creativity in technology which contributed to the success of the empire, including John Harrison’s chronometer and James Watts’s steam engine.

The British will continue to create, to be sure. But how will they sell their creations if they have exempted themselves from their largest market?

The United States, if we do not choke off all immigration, can look forward to a surge of British talent coming across the Atlantic.

Llewellyn King, based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. A native of Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), he was a journalist in England before moving to America, where he has been a columnist, editor, publisher and international business consultant. His email is

PCFR: Arab social entrepreneurs; two paths to Brexit; geopolitics and U.S. Foreign policy

View of mosque in downtown Beirut. Below, Beirut, on the Mediterranean.

View of mosque in downtown Beirut. Below, Beirut, on the Mediterranean.


The next three speakers at the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations. (Please see for membership and other information. Email:

Wednesday, October 3

Social Entrepreneurship with Dr. Teresa Chahine, Harvard

6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence

Dr. Teresa Chahine is the author of Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, based on her course at Harvard. She is the Innovation Adviser at Alfanar Venture Philanthropy, which she helped launch in her home country of Lebanon. Alfanar provides tailored financing and technical support to social enterprises serving marginalized populations in the Arab world.

Dr. Chahine divides her time between Beirut and Boston, where she leads the social entrepreneurship program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Wednesday, October 17

Two Paths to Brexit: Michael Goldfarb

6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence

On the eve of an EU summit where the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, hopes to present a draft treaty for Britain's withdrawal from the EU former NPR correspondent, Michael Goldfarb, who covered the creation of the euro and the border free Europe, looks at the details of the deal: the rights of millions of British and European citizens now living in what have become "foreign" countries, how to keep the Irish border fully open, maintaining supply chains, and the time frame for transition.

It is also possible talks will have collapsed. In that case, Goldfarb will explain the likely impact on UK, Europe and global economy of a no-deal Brexit.

Michael Goldfarb is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He has written for The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post but is best known for his work in public radio. Throughout the 1990’s, as NPR’s London Correspondent and then Bureau Chief, he covered conflicts and conflict resolution from Northern Ireland to Bosnia to Iraq for NPR.

Thursday, November 8

Geopolitics Underlying U.S. Foreign Policy

Sarah C. M. Paine

6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence

Sarah C. Paine is a professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. She has written or co-edited several books on naval policy and related affairs, and subjects of particular interest to the United States Navy or Defense. Other works she has authored concern the political and military history of East Asia, particularly China, during the modern era. She is the author of the 2012 award-winning book, Wars for Asia 1911–1949.

PCFR: Arab social entrepreneurs; future of Brexit; U.S. geopolitics


Fall speakers at the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations. (Please see for membership and other information.)


Wednesday, October 3


Social Entrepreneurship Abroad with Dr. Teresa Chahine, Harvard

6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence


Dr. Teresa Chahine is the author of Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, based on her course at Harvard. She is the Innovation Advisor at Alfanar Venture Philanthropy, which she helped launch in her home country of Lebanon. Alfanar provides tailored financing and technical support to social enterprises serving marginalized populations in the Arab world.

Dr. Chahine divides her time between Beirut and Boston, where she leads the social entrepreneurship program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.



Wednesday, October 17

Two Paths to Brexit: Michael Goldfarb

6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence


On the eve of an EU summit where the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, hopes to present a draft treaty for Britain's withdrawal from the EU former NPR correspondent, Michael Goldfarb, who covered the creation of the euro and the border free Europe, looks at the details of the deal: the rights of millions of British and European citizens now living in what have become "foreign" countries, how to keep the Irish border fully open, maintaining supply chains, and the time frame for transition.

It is also possible talks will have collapsed.  In that case, Goldfarb will explain the likely impact on UK, Europe and global economy of a no-deal Brexit.

Michael Goldfarb is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He has written for The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post but is best known for his work in public radio. Throughout the 1990’s, as NPR’s London Correspondent and then Bureau Chief, he covered conflicts and conflict resolution from Northern Ireland to Bosnia to Iraq for NPR.




Thursday, November 8

Geopolitics Underlying US Foreign Policy

Sarah C. M. Paine


6:00, The Hope Club, 6 Benevolent Street, Providence


Sarah C. Paine is a professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College located in Newport, Rhode Island. She has written or co-edited several books on naval policy and related affairs, and subjects of particular interest to the United States Navy or Defense. Other works she has authored concern the political and military history of East Asia, particularly China, during the modern era. She is the author of the 2012 award-winning book, Wars for Asia 1911–1949.







David Haworth: Awaiting the booms on the Ulster-Republic of Ireland border


Anti "hard-border'' demonstration along the Ulster-Republic of Ireland border.    

Anti "hard-border'' demonstration along the Ulster-Republic of Ireland border.


The convoluted border.

The convoluted border.


There’s a joke about a tourist in Ireland asking a local for directions, getting the response: “Well, if that’s your destination I wouldn’t start from here.”

It’s politically true of the island of Ireland just now as Britain extricates itself from the 28-member European Union  after 45 years – the border between Northern Ireland (British) and the Republic (Irish) has become a make or break negotiation issue.

The E.U. has melted European borders so that one travels seamlessly across nations and cultures these days. There are no peaked caps to delay the surface traveler with inquiries, even searches.

On a ragged frontier there are lumps of Belgian land found in next-door Netherlands – and vice versa – which are curiosities, not causes for a fight.  

Nowhere is free and easy transit more celebrated than in Ireland. The 310-mile border between the six counties of Ulster and the rest of the Irish landmass sees an estimated flow of up to 30,000 commuters every day.

The Center for Cross Border Studies (Yes!) reckons there are 30 million vehicle crossings annually -- and that’s counted traffic. But, imagine if you will, the rolling, verdant landscape whose hedgerows conceal hundreds of “unapproved roads” and pathways where the green line often slices farms and parishes.

“Frontierland” is not a sinister vacuum between two nations but the name of an amusement arcade on one of the main roads.

“We live in the shadow and the shelter of one another,” says the Irish Republic’s president, Michael D. Higgins.

For 95 years the border has been freely open for people.

And for goods since 1993.

Folklore about the misty days of smuggling is still relished on the Emerald Isle. As a child post World War II I traveled on the “Flying Enterprise” express between Belfast and Dublin; going north on this mere 87-mile route, Mom stuffed my rucksack with illegal silk stockings, Sweet Afton cigarettes and candy (my reward).

Customs officers never thought to examine a kid’s luggage – unlike international trains on the European continent. Back then, frontiers meant opening suitcases, showing tickets, passports, buying sandwiches, waiting for the locomotive change and the train car wheels to be tapped – all denying that the night train was a “Sleeper.”

With the prospect of the United Kingdom leaving the E.U., there are many Irish fears of what it will do to their current, diaphanous border.

Northern Ireland will be broken off like a biscuit from the rest of the island and two different customs regimes are likely.

“We have seen no evidence to suggest that, right now, an invisible border is possible,” barked the House of Commons committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, adding they had failed to find an electronic, rather than an infrastructural customs system, “anywhere in the world”.

But the political cost of red and white booms across roads, plus inevitable sheds and carparks for lorry inspection and customs officers, would be toxic: that’s for sure on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to bloodied Northern Ireland.

The Center for Border Studies warns commuters and traders “will inevitably experience significant change in the environment for cooperation and mobility due to customs controls, and the potential for an increase in both smuggling and other forms of organized crime.”

A European Commission official involved in the “Brexit” negotiations comments: “Frozen pizza without cheese will cross the border more easily; otherwise there will be rigorous checks.  Every consignment that is animal-based will need to be examined.”

Bristling with negotiation “red lines”, British Prime Minister Theresa May is the Queen of Wishful Thinking; few others are upbeat about what will happen to the Northern Island border after Britain quits the E.U.

Will a fractious frontier return?

A “backstop” arrangement for Ireland and Northern Ireland to maintain the status quo even after Britain’s E.U. departure has been agreed if no other solution is found.

But an aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair doesn’t think much of that.  “Huge concrete slabs and checkpoints on the main roads could force Northern Island back into identity politics,” Ireland expert Jonathan Powell hints ominously. “The border issue could bring the entire Brexit negotiation crashing down.”

Brussels-based David Haworth writes for Inside Sources, where this piece first appeared. A seasoned reporter on European subjects, he has worked for the International Herald Tribune, the Irish Independent, the Irish Daily Mail & The Observer.













David Warsh: Brooks's thin-sliced baloney


Every columnist occasionally has a  housekeeping day. Hard-working David Brooks, of The New York Times, is no exception.  Last week Brooks offered nine, count-em, nine grand narratives packed into a single 866-word column, the material currently on his desktop cleaned up and put away, presumably to get ready for another week.

Four of these sources of identity were from a “superbly clarifying speech” by George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Not four, mind you, but the four.  Depending on who doing the telling, Packer said, the American story is to be understood as fundamentally libertarian (“free markets and free minds”), or a matter of globalization (technology regnant), of multiculturalism (overcoming bigotry), or of isolationism (make America great again).

Since none of these narratives offers a basis for governing in the 21st Century, Brooks noted two more, found in an essay by Michael Lind, “The New Class War,” which appeared recently in a new maverick conservative journal. If you haven’t seen it, American Affairs, is worth a look, as is Jacobin, a new left-wing counterpart.

The transatlantic class war between neoliberal elites and working-class populists that produced the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump must evolve as “cross-class settlements” in one of two ways, wrote Lind. Perhaps a banana-republic world is here to stay, a Latin American model in which populists perpetually battle oligarchs and their managerial allies.

Alternatively, Lind wrote, the sort of social contract that guided Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore in the years after 1945 might emerge, different in details but similar in spirit: “cautious, suspicious, military-inflected development…” occurring within the borders of four great blocs: the U.S., China, perhaps India, and a politically divided Europe, the sort of world that George Orwell envisioned in Nineteen Eight-Four.

Stimulated by Lind, Brooks adduced two slight variations, both of them descended from the original civic myth that Brooks described in a column a couple of months ago, namely the Exodus story. In that account, national unity in the U.S. had long depended on the shared experience of having at some point left the Old World for the New, of having ventured into a wilderness in order to join in the creation of a shining example to all humankind. But that story depended on a high degree of national self-confidence traditionally buttressed by religious conviction. For one reason or another, it no longer worked. An American “identity crisis” was at hand.

Hence Brooks offered two new possibilities for going forward. One of them was to embrace Lind’s mercantilist model of the U.S. as one contender among several in a multipolar world. “In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is to be a burly protector of the tribe,”  which Donald Trump aspires to be.

The other story that Brooks envisaged is about “the talented community,” a celebratory image of America as “history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities,” a generous, open, welcoming society in which “everything is designed to arouse energy and propel social mobility” – in short, “an Exodus story for an information age.”

I have a narrative, too, but it isn’t suited to the space or time I have today. So much, then, for this columnist’s housecleaning day.

David Warsh, a veteran economic historian and business and political columnist, is proprietor of, where this first ran.


Llewellyn King: 2016's big lies, myths and narratives

Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians.

Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians.



So what then were the big ideas of 2016?

The great, world-changing actions are the decision of Britain to leave the European Union – Brexit -- and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Both pointed to electorates that had had it with the status quo and the elites who run things.

The victors in these elections relied on and triumphed with a simple strategy: a propaganda coup. They told the electorate that things were worse than they actually were.

Start with Britain. Those who campaigned to take Britain out of Europe took an ancient, maybe primal, desire of an island people to remain unattached and exploited it with cunning, disinformation and suspect numbers.

Britons were, this narrative claimed, suffering under the yoke of European bureaucrats. Yet if you ask people in Britain -- let us remember that this was primarily an English and (less so) Welsh issue and not a Scottish or  Northern Ireland one -- to tell you how they have been hurt by the European Union, they cannot tell you.

Britain is one of the most successful nations in Europe and inmany ways the most influential. From architecture to banking to theater, Britain leads the way. Now that is to be ended for small-nation status and mythology about sovereignty.

The nation that has given so much to the world has voted to be insignificant and poorer, all because of leaders telling them that they were oppressed by Europe in unquantifiable ways.

A further mystery: Why have American conservatives, almost en masse, applauded Britain’s decision to embrace irrelevance?

During his presidential campaign, Trump used the same argument as those who wanted Britain to vote to roll back history: Things are awful and getting worse. This postulated that the government has fallen into the hands of people who cannot administer, and that the United States has crushing unemployment.

When it came to foreign relations and trade, Trump averred that our negotiators are feckless pushovers, always ready to cave. Not so. Around the world, we are respected for our powers of negotiation and the depth of expertise we bring to the table.

The Hobbesian Trumpian view of things contrasts with unambiguous facts: The nation's economy has been growing, unemployment is below 5 percent and there are shortages in many blue-collar fields, and manufacturing is growing.

Like the Leave campaign in the United Kingdom, Trump has emphasized the role of regulation in holding back economic expansion. This is the Gulliver’s Travels vision of the economy; that there is an economic giant yearning to be free and to lift economic growth when the pesky regulations that keep him tied up are ditched.

Well, perhaps some. The historical picture of deregulation is mixed.

Deregulation of oil and  natural gas -- particularly with gas – led to an increase in supply even before the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom.

While airline deregulation resulted in many more cheaper -- and more unpleasant -- flights, it also left many small cities with fewer and more expensive ones.

Electric utility industry deregulation has been a mess, resulting in weaker companies, stranded investment and no consumer dividend.

Drug regulation needs streamlining but remains essential.

Banks howl at regulations and go off the rails when they are slackened, as with the savings and loan scandal and the mortgage debacle. Maybe when greed is a profession, regulators are needed.

Regulation is not across-the-board deleterious. Relaxing some will help some national goals, like building more pipelines to move the hydrocarbon bounty to market. But keeping pipelines safe is a regulatory necessity.

The Trump administration will come to power burdened with weight of expectations that it has ignited.

This was the year where shaded facts, political myth and old-fashioned lies dominated the discourse.

Expectations levitated in 2016 will fall to earth in 2017 -- softly one hopes. As for the big idea? It has not yet been Tweeted to us.

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

Llewellyn King: Taking a wrecking ball to the U.S. and U.K.

On both sides of the Atlantic, political and business retaining walls are being torn down in the belief that they are of no structural importance. Messing with the political and business architecture is likely to have grave, and possibly terrible, effects on democracy and prosperity.

In the United States solid, political orthodoxy, which has served well for so long, is under attack in the Congress and on the hustings.

A more advanced attack is underway in Europe than the United States, but it is a harbinger nonetheless of bad things that can happen here. The commonalities outweigh the differences.

In Europe, Britain has embarked on one of the great, avoidable debacles of history: the decision to leave the European Union. It will destabilize Europe, almost certainly lead to a breakup of the United Kingdom, and leave the British Isles vulnerable and impoverished, clinging to the tatters of its “sovereignty.”

To bring about this state of affairs, the British had to take aim at the very architecture of the English Constitution: the collection of rules and precedents that has flowed since Magna Carta and is enshrined in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.

Now the Conservative Party is bowing to the result of a referendum, a decisive result nonetheless, which will involve the withdrawal from Europe without a debate or vote in the House of Commons. A referendum in Britain — there have only ever been three, and all have been on Europe — denies representative government, created over the centuries, as the only system of government: the fundamental political architecture.

In the United States, the political architecture is under threat because we fail to revere it. A book by Richard Arenberg and Robert Dove, titled Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate, outlines one way that the structure is facing the wrecking ball. For 34 years, Arenberg worked in the Senate for such Democratic political giants as George Mitchell, Carl Levin and Paul Tsongas. Robert Dove served twice as Senate parliamentarian and was on Republican Leader Robert Dole’s staff. They argue that the political architecture in the Senate is under attack from the ceaseless, ugly partisanship and that the filibuster, a minority guarantee to a say, may be swept away.

Arenberg told me that the filibuster, always used sparingly and seldom invoked, has been abused in recent years to such an extent that a change in the Senate rules could sweep away this unique tool of whichever party is in the minority to be heard. If that happens, he said, a situation like the one in the House would prevail, where the majority holds sway without regard to the minority, more like a parliamentary system.

Other threats to the structure of American democracy abound. Many of them have been enunciated by Hedrick Smith, a distinguished documentary filmmaker and former New York Times correspondent, in his book Who Stole the American Dream? He points to gerrymandering and special interests and their money as threatening the retaining walls of the American democracy.

Worse, maybe, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the growing conservative rejection of trade as the basis not only of prosperity, but also of foreign-policy stability.

Brexit is the willing destruction of Britain’s largest trade arrangement and an equivalent reduction in its influence in Europe and, by extrapolation, in the world.

In the United States, Hillary Clinton has pusillanimously turned her back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that she helped write. And Donald Trump has declared his intention to trash almost all our trade treaties, which, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, he claims have been written by idiots to favor our competitors.

Most worrying is the way the U.K.’s Conservative Party and Republicans, silenced by Trump’s candidacy, here have accepted this rejection of traditional conservative bedrock: prosperity through trade. Institutionally, they have been quiet, so quiet.

The threat to good governance in Europe and America, combined with the prevailing economic heresy, poses a serious threat to the West and must have its enemies in Moscow and Beijing doing a happy dance. They know that if you knock down enough retaining walls, the structure will be weakened to the point of collapse. The wrecking balls are already at work.

Llewellyn King ( is host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant.

Robert Whitcomb; Treatment for Brexit bathos; 'The Genius of Birds'

This first ran in Robert Whitcomb "Digital Diary'' column in

"There's been a little bit of hysteria post-Brexit vote, as if somehow NATO's gone, the Trans-Atlantic Alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That's not what's happening."

--   President Obama

Quite right. And the Western World has been prosperous for long stretches without the E.U.!

The 51.8 percent vote  in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union stemmed from, among other things, the failure of the E.U. to slow the flood of refugees from nasty places and, somewhat related, the dwindling job prospects of millions of people hurt by globalization and computerization. Outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, had vowed to cut net immigration into the U.K. to 100,000 a year. In fact,  it rose to  333,000 in 2015.

Then there was the desire to protect the orderly British way of life.

The British and many people on the Continent understandably fear for their tolerant and opensocieties when so many people from illiberal, corrupt, religiously fanatic and indeed barbaric cultures flee to Europe for its safety andprosperity, not to mention welfare benefits, butrefuse to give up some of the nasty archaic aspects of the cultures whence they came. The British “Leave’’ voters want to adjust the influx of immigrants from non-Western cultures to a pace that  allows for thegradual education of these newcomers so that they come to accept the values of an open, tolerant, democratic and secular society.

What happens next?

Future events might include:

·      The U.K. deciding not to leave the E.U. after all. For one thing, the referendum isn’t legallybinding!

·      Letting Scotland veto Brexit since, under one legal interpretation, leaving requires the Scottish Parliament’s approval and the Scots have strongly favored staying in the E.U.

·      Renegotiating the U.K.’s membership in the E.U. -- for example, giving Britain and other member nations more power to control population movements into their nations.

The U.K. will muddle through with new arrangements with the E.U., perhaps along the lines of non-members Norway and Switzerland and, I hope, develop  even closer connections with its offspring the United States.

Brexit should remind us that we need to strengthen the unity of the wider West – Europe, the U.S. and Canada --  especially as aggressive dictatorships, particularly Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as well as Islamic terrorists, pose intensifying dangers.  NATO must block Putin’s obvious plan to take over the Baltic Republics and that  part of Ukraine he hasn’t already grabbed. And the U.S., the U.K and the E.U. need to accelerate negotiations  to enact  the TransatlanticTrade and Investment Partnership to strengthen the West on both sides of the Atlantic.

An analysis at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed the 10 best nations to live in. All except Japan are Western democracies. Brexit may spawn new ways of thinking to keep it that way.


MontyBurnham, who chairs the Preservation Society of Newport County,  controlled her exasperation in her recent status report on  long-delayed upgrades to three Newport mansions – upgrades that would draw in more tourist money to the City by the Sea.

Tedious Nimby legal actions have long held up a long-overdue welcome center at The Breakers as well as refreshment services at Marble House and The Elms. The society will almost certainly finally triumph this year, letting these improvements be implemented next year. But what a pity it will have taken so long to offer these amenities. America has become an increasingly difficult place to do public projects, no matter how good for the general public.


Republican leaders have long denounced the Affordable Care Act without coming up with a detailed plan with a cost-benefit analysis to replace it.

The tradition continues with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s election-year healthcare replacement “plan’’ for the ACA. As usual, it involves further complicating the tax code -- in this case,  with a new tax credit for people (including rich folks) to buy insurance in markets to be regulated by the states.

The speaker doesn’t project how much the credit would be worth, what the total cost would be, how many people it would cover and the range of  health conditions to be covered by such policies. So, at this point anyway, it means pretty much nothing.

Meanwhile, the most cost-effective and least complicated way to improve American healthcare – extending Medicare to everyone – remains off the table. Lobbyists rule!


Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Genius of Birds, about birds’ cognitive abilities, is quite something. Birds use tools, plan, have capacious memories and complex social lives. Many species are anything but what we think of as ‘’birdbrained’’.

But then,  the more we learn about nonhuman animals the more we’re surprised by how many species are smart and deeply feeling creatures. Pigs, certainly. (And some fish?)

And yet we continue to terrify, kill and eat intelligent animals.

Robert Whitcomb is overseer of New England Diary.

Jarrod Hazelton: Brexit a triumph of ignorance

Brexit is perhaps most appropriately summed up in the words of Mr. Donald Trump: 

“Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” 

A Tweet heard (naturally) ‘round the world, whose expression of ignorance wa signored by his supporters  even as it was rightfully lampooned by everybody else.   Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union; England and Wales voted to leave.

Support for Brexit worldwide is a veritable Who’s Who of international Nuevo-fascism: Trump, Zhirinovsky, Putin, Marine le Pen. It is also the direct result of unabashed ignorance.  Take, for example, the recent remarks by U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.

One of the central tenets of the Leave campaign was that £350 million per week in payments to the European Union would be diverted to the British National Health Service after Brexit. This incredible incentive is certainly something to consider, but for the fact that it was a total fabrication. Rather than admit this, Farage has instead made the preposterous assertion that he never said such a thing, regardless of the Leave campaign tour bus being emblazoned with the £350 million figure as it traversed the English countryside. Perhaps one of his handlers forgot to mention the design change. Additionally,  a Tory member of the European Parliament,  David Hannan, back-pedaled on immigration, claiming less than 24 hours after the Brexit vote that immigration levels  from the E.U. into Britain might remain unchanged after Brexit goes into full effect. Who knew that the UK had just voted in favor of a group of BRINOs (Brexitors In Name Only)?

Lying in politics is certainly not new but the  size of such preposterous claims in recent history is impressive. Trump is a virtual cacophony of spewing, festering untruths, and yet his followers  go along with his claims regardless of veracity. Instead, he maintains a stronghold on their collective frustration at  being excluded from a system that has long since left them behind.

What Brexitors and Trump supporters have in common may be less xenophobia, bigotry, racism and a longing to take back “again” whatever it is they feel is no longer theirs than ignorance. In America, Trumpists, are nostalgic for a country that once afforded them labor protections, defined-benefit pensions, generous employer-subsidized healthcare, affordable education and other things that have been stripped from them, albeit with scraps still trickling down to them from the rich interests so powerful in Washington, D.C. 

Ironically, market forces that have assaulted Brexitors and Trump and Sanders supporters who will refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton may ultimately solve their problems for them. Sovereign wealth funds lost over 30 percent of their interests in the U.K. overnight as  the pound crashed with the Brexit news, and won’t stand for  this to go on. Businesses in Britain will realize the vast expense of hiring and retraining based on citizenry regulations to be too egregious. And Brexit Remorse may lead to a second referendum, and/or negotiations to leave the E.U may result in a realm of clauses and capitulations that would truly make a Brexit In Name Only.

The prevailing ignorance, xenophobia, bigotry and socio-economic factors behind market forces may solve themselves for a time, but in so doing no lessons will be learned.

Jarrod Hazelton, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, is a financial analyst.


Robert Whitcomb: Ports, panhandlers, dictators in the Internet, Italo-American adventures


This first ran in my “Digital Diary’’ column in GoLocal, which appears every Thursday. I will usually make minor revisions/updates before the column runs here.

You may have read about the Panama Canal expansion, which will boost business for U.S. East Coast ports, including Quonset/Davisville and Providence. More volume in our local -- and for decades underused -- ports will mean more jobs, more business formation and lower consumer costs (for some products) hereabouts.

So a $20 million bond issue, to be on the state ballot in November,  to expand the Port of Providence looks quite charming, as does a $50 million bond issue for expanding Quonset/Davisville.

But there’s a slight problem: GoLocal found out that ProvPort, the nonprofit operator of the Port of Providence, paid management fees to its sister for-profit company of more than $11 million over the three most recently reported years – half of ProvPort’s total revenue-- and it’s not clear for what.

Bill Brody and Ray Meador (who lives in California), two players in creating the Wyatt Detention Center, in Central Falls, and linked to its fiscal disaster, would benefit again from public financing if voters approve  the bonds. Mr. Brody is a lawyer who is ProvPort's sole employee, at $225,000 year, and Mr. Meador is a co-owner and the manager of non-profit ProvPort's sister for-profit company, Waterson Terminal.

Presumably we’ll hear more about what those management fees cover and who and how certain individuals would benefit from the port’s expansion, in addition, of course, to the public.

The trouble with opaque operations like ProvPort is that the reality or perception of insider deals can kill such fine ideas as port expansion by pumping up the paralyzing cynicism that makes it so difficult to get big public projectsdone in the United States.

I’d feel better if the state took over the Port of Providence and coordinated it with the very well run Quonset/Davisville.  

I should add, as my friend Chris Hunter reminds me,   that there are several private terminals in the Port of Providence (Sprague Energy, Sims Metal Management, Motiva, Capitol Terminal and Exxon Mobile) that are very successful and don't need a port authority telling them what to do with their business.  


Quite a panhandler proliferation in Providence! A favored site is in front of the Marriott Hotel on Orms Street at the intersection with Charles, where traffic lights trap drivers. At least one beggar, sometimes lying on his/her back to enjoy the sunshine,  often occupies the thin median strip from morning to dusk.

The beggars seem to be well organized (sometimes with what seems to be an iPhone-armed manager) and able to extract money from  many drivers. (I suspect that their take is not reported to the tax authorities but is adequate to pay for cigarettes.) Are many drivers sympathetic because they know that the panhandlers will never find jobs as lucrative as begging in these days of downward mobility, or just embarrassed? The beggars often greet me with a hearty “hihowareya!?”


Congress should block an Obama administration plan that would make it harder to try to protect freedom of expression on the Internet. The White House wants to let the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) free itself from the U.S. oversight of the Internet it has had since the 1990s.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the new arrangement would give dictatorships much more influence over the ICANN board by letting them them vote on bylaw changes and the  ICANN budget and remove free-speech advocates from the board.

Commerce Department official Larry Stricklin, struggling to defend the plan, told The Washington Post, “At the end of the day, this whole system is built on trust.” Who will trust Vladimir Putin’s Russia and/or Xi Jinping’s China not to use their new powers to further quash online dissent?


Edward A. Carosi, founder of the Uncle Tony’s Pizza chain, has self-published a wild novel with the stately name of The Arrival/The Struggle/The Ascendency about three generations of Italo-Americans. Mr. Carosi starts the story in a poor hill town in Italy and goes through Rhode Island, Vietnam and Calcutta (Mother Teresa presiding!), weaving among romances and wars and corpses and entrepreneurs, including the mobster variety.

Some of the characters  enter clichedom – the women tend to be gorgeous and curvaceous (the mammary lingers on), the men handsome except for some Raymond Patriarca types. Some characters start out bad and get  predictably worse, but end up redeeming themselves. Others remain stock villains throughout while some stay implausibly good.

Mr. Carosi is not a professional writer, but he has narrative drive: You keep turning the pages. And he has a strong sense of place and 20th Century history that New Englanders in particular will savor. Somebody could turn this into saleable 120-page screenplay.   


Donald Trump doesn’t seem to know that being president of the United States means being head of state and not just another politician. That suggests that at least some dignity and restraint is called for. Mr. Trump’s narcissism seems to preclude those qualities. Still, he could defeat the very able but, as is her  husband, very greedy Hillary Clinton.  The Brexit vote in Britain may suggest how close the presidential vote could be.


An evening last week was so cool that it reminded us of how soon September will come.

Robert Whitcomb is the overseer of New England Diary.

Robert Whitcomb: What to do with those islands near Europe


On a business trip to London in the ‘80s, I saw a billboard for an airline at Heathrow Airport that proclaimed “Best Route to Europe’’. I asked a cabbie: “Aren’t we in Europe?’’ He answered: “No, Sir, we’re in England’’.

Whenever I visit Britain, I never feel  I am in “Europe,’’ but rather in something closer to the U.S. or Canada. It  isn’t just the language;  it’s in the manner of the people and the look of the place.  London reminds me of Boston (Mass.), Nottingham of Worcester (Mass.).

On June 23, British subjects will vote on whether the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) should quit the European Union (the exit called the “Brexit’’). There would be pitfalls (for a while) in doing so but advantages too.

The pitfalls: Harder for British people to get jobs on the Continent, less flexibility for big U.K. companies in doing deals with Continental companies and snags in coordinating sometransnational anti-terrorism security measures with E.U. members. 

Still, while Brexit would hurt the U.K. economy  for several years it would strengthen it for the long term.

It would give the U.K. more control over its own affairs, thus letting it better maintain its best qualities,  especially its love of liberty;  its quirky individualism; its entrepreneurialism; the strength and stability of its institutions, including its glorious Common Law, the astonishingly adaptable language that England gave the world and that 1.5 billion people speak now, and its special relationship with America.

For all their flaws, no nations have benefited the world as  much as have the United Kingdom and its offspring the United States.  The U.K.’s cultural/political/economic characteristics made that possible.  Further absorption into the homogenizing, bureaucratizing and centralizing European Union, mostly run by  unelected, if highly professional and well-meaning, administrators, threatens to dilute these strengths.

The late historian Robert Conquest wrote: “within the West, it is above all the English-speaking community which has …pioneered and maintained the middle way between anarchy and despotism.’’

Brexit would probably encourage the U.K. to tighten ties with its most important offspring – America -- with which it shares so many values -- and with the 53-nation Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth,  to help offset negative economic effects of Brexit.

I used to live in France and  am a fan of the European Union – for the Continent.  For all its regulations, bureaucracy and social engineering, the E.U. has, all in all,  helped make the Continent more prosperous and humane and war in Western and Central Europe much less likely.

That the E.U. has  made it much easier for citizens of E.U. countries to travel and work where they want within the Union has usually been a boon. But it also has made it easier for terrorists and other criminals to operate freely over a wide area, which has increasingly worried the British. Thank God for the Channel!

The biggest near-term threats to the E.U. come from the  gangster Vladimir Putin’s aggression and from Islamic pathologies,  which wreak terror attacks and refugee floods, but confronting them is mostly NATO ‘s job, not the E.U.’s. And the United Kingdom will remain in NATO, whether or not it leaves the E.U.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of  the glories of “multiculturalism,’’ the fact is that Western culture has brought more prosperity and human rights to the world than any other.   No wonder almost all refugees want to flee to the West. We need to do everything possible to boost the  broader Western World through, for example, such projects as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a huge free-trade area  in the mutual self-interest of the European Union, the U.K.  (Brexit or not) and the U.S.  

But in such cooperation, let’s not dilute the best idiosyncratic elements of Western Civilization’s parts.  The U.K., in the long run,  would do better as a friendly partner of the E.U. than as a member. Its  history, its enduring psychic separation from Europe, its  curious blend of insularity and worldliness (much of the latter stemming from the British Empire experience) has served itself and the world well.

Robert Whitcomb ( is overseer of and former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune.