A city for genealogists and antique dealers?

  Part of the Boston skyline seen from Memorial Drive,  Cambridge.

Part of the Boston skyline seen from Memorial Drive,  Cambridge.

"Harvard (across the river in Cambridge) and Boston are two ends of one mustache. ... Without the faculty, the visitors, the events that Harvard brings to the life here, Boston would be intolerable to anyone except genealogists, antique dealers, and those who find repletion in a closed local society.''

-- Elizabeth Hardwick (19176-2007), critic and essayist.

Editor's note: Things have changed a lot in Boston recent decades, and it's now a very dynamic and globalized city

Lord of the North Shore

 This looks like something from  Brideshead Revisited . It's the Crane Estate, in Ipswich, Mass., built by plumbing-fixture mogul Richard T. Crane in the 1920s. The 59-room structure is sometimes open for tours. See: www.thetrustees.org.  It's close to the exquisite Crane Beach -- four miles of fine-grain sand backed by pitch pine forest on Ipswich Bay that's protected by a wildlife preserve. It's also close to the beautiful but often storm-battered Plum Island, named for the beach plums that flourish there. (See picture below.) But who knows if Plum Island will be there in a  century, given rising seas and seemingly more frequent Nor'easters?   

This looks like something from Brideshead Revisited. It's the Crane Estate, in Ipswich, Mass., built by plumbing-fixture mogul Richard T. Crane in the 1920s. The 59-room structure is sometimes open for tours. See: www.thetrustees.org.

It's close to the exquisite Crane Beach -- four miles of fine-grain sand backed by pitch pine forest on Ipswich Bay that's protected by a wildlife preserve. It's also close to the beautiful but often storm-battered Plum Island, named for the beach plums that flourish there. (See picture below.) But who knows if Plum Island will be there in a  century, given rising seas and seemingly more frequent Nor'easters?




Progress is a two-way street


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

Sometimes a city can take relatively simple and inexpensive measures to make itself more popular and prosperous. For example, it can improve its signage, clean up graffiti more quickly and punish the perpetrators – and turn more one-way streets into two-way streets.

The last has been generally shown to increase a city’s overall employment, reduce crime and accidents, boost the quantity and quality of housing (including hotels) and expand such sectors as food, entertainment, the arts and professional services.  

Now, some might complain that two-way streets make downtowns too crowded. But crowded cities are safer and more dynamic than less densely populated ones.  And those with lots of street life 24/7 are the best. That’s a good reason to replace as many surface parking lots as possible with buildings (even if they’re parking garages). The fewer gaps between buildings the better. For an interesting discussion of the pros and cons of two-way streets, read this CityLab piece, co-authored by Richard Florida, who has written a lot about downtown Providence, among other old cities.

David Warsh: The other Marshall Plan




Rex Tillerson never had a chance to become the pretty good secretary of state  that he might have become. As the president who fired him with a Tweet explained: “We were not really thinking the same…. Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking.” 

The diplomatic press corps seemed credulous in agreeing with their sources, career Foreign Service officers, that, whatever else, that Donald Trump had been elected should not affect the conduct of their mission.

In the last melancholy week, while thinking about the tasks that the next president will face, whoever it may be, it was good to have two quite different books to read about one of the greatest secretaries of state, the revered George Marshall, who, having served as first acting and then actual Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 until 1945, was Secretary of State from 1947 until 1949. (He stepped in for a year as Secretary of Defense, in September 1950-51).

On the next to last page of The Marshall Plan: The Dawn of the Cold War (Simon & Schuster, 2018), economist Benn Steil draws the moral of his book: “In contrast with the earlier Cold War period, the post-Cold War period has been marked by the absence of an American Grand Strategy, a calibrated mapping of means to large ends.”

The first 375 pages of Steil’s book describe with a flair for drama how that mapping was undertaken, and with what result. His account of the political foundations seems certain to become a standard reference work for many years to come.

The last 25 pages of the book, in a chapter called “Echoes,” describe the improvisation that has served since 1990. Steil’s reflections are a curtain-raiser – a full-blown overture, I suspect, given that he is a popular historian and senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations – to a debate that is bound to happen about the wisdom of NATO enlargement after 1990 to the very boundaries of Russia. 

It’s a pity, then, that Steil’s publisher didn’t devise a title to convey the real significance of his story. But the aid package was only the softer half the U.S. strategy that underpinned containment. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance formed originally by a dozen Western nations two years after Marshall’s famous Harvard University commencement address in 1947, was the other half. Steil summarizes the way the strategy evolved: 

"Over the course of 1946 and 1947 the United States developed a framework of Soviet containment to safeguard its interests without appeasement or war. It then devised the Marshall Plan as the most promising means, given Soviet conventional military supremacy in Europe, and a large American edge in economic power, to implement it. When France and Britain averred that economic integration made Marshall nations more dependent on each other and less able to defend themselves against hostile action by Russia or Germany, the United States responded with NATO. Together the Marshall Plan and NATO provided the means to carry out containment.

"The grand strategy of containment worked – there is no longer much argument about that. Steil respectfully examines historian Alan Milward’s critique of Marshall Plan triumphalism and concludes that the proposition that 'less food and more Germany would have worked better is 'farfetched.”'

Arriving at his “Echoes” chapter, and the question of NATO’s Cold War afterlife, Steil is only a little less certain. After describing how Secretary of State Madeline Albright chose Harvard’s commencement on the 50th  anniversary of Marshall’s address to tout NATO enlargement, he writes,

If historical anniversaries were important for NATO expansion, waiting two years for the 80th anniversary of the Versailles Treaty would have been more apposite. The treaty heaped humiliations on Germany after World War I with no clear end in sight, and  help ed create the economic and political conditions that led to World War II. Having improbably abandoned communism for democracy, and capitalism in a near bloodless revolution, Russians were, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, feeling similarly humiliated and threatened by an unexpected Western military advance towards their borders.

China hardly comes up in Steil’s book. Further good news, then, is the arrival of The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War 1945-1947 (Norton, 2018), by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a former Foreign Service officer and executive editor of Foreign Affairs. 

It has been nearly forgotten, but between his wartime years and his term at Foggy Bottom, Marshall spent 17 months in China, trying to mediate between the national government of Chiang Kai-shek and the Red Army of Mao Zedong. 

He failed, of course. But what a romantic story Kurtz-Phelan makes of it!

Some 400 pages by Steil on Russia, another 360 pages about China – who has time to properly read these books? Not me. I race through the first and the last chapters, rely on the indices for the rest, and stop when I am confident that, at least, I have understood the author’s point of view. 

I’ll tell you this, though: I will take The China Mission to Michigan with me this summer, because I so enjoyed Barbara Tuchman’s Stillwell and the American Experience in China 1911-1945 (1971) many years ago: those years in China were, after all, a romantic time. Kurtz-Phelan has written his book in the same vein, and with an even more compelling figure at the center of it.

Moreover, the aftermath of the mission – the Who-Lost-China? controversy that poisoned political lives in the U.S. for the next 20 years – is a warning about the kind of harm that can ensue if the coming debate over NATO enlargement takes the wrong turn.

Indeed, you’ll understand by the end of the book what President Lyndon Johnson was thinking (and, if you know something about it, how mistaken he was) when he asserted that U.S. foreign policymakers had “lost their effectiveness from the day that the Communists took over China” and concluded therefore “I knew that all these problems, taken together, were chicken shit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam.”

The other Marshall Plan, then, was to know when to fold ’em. A less judicious adviser could have started a whole new war, committing U.S. troops to battle on the Chinese mainland in 1946, instead of five years later, in very different circumstances, in Korea.

After one last attempt, in late December 1946, to persuade Chiang to govern his cities rather than seek to engage the rebels on the battlefield, Marshall cabled President Truman that the Chinese leaders were not going to end their civil war. “It is quite clear to me that my usefulness here will soon be at an end, for a variety of reasons.” Truman called him home days later.

The story should be reassuring, Kurz-Phelan concludes. “Even at the height of its power, when it had just led the Allies to victory in World War II and accounted for nearly half of the global economy, America could not solve every problem….” But even then, “America did not have to solve every problem to show it was strong.”

David Warsh, an economic historian and long time political, historical and economic journalist, is proprietor of eonomicprincipals.com, based in Somerville.

A grand tour of some grand New England houses


William (“Willit’’ ) Mason, M.D., has written has a delightful  – and very handy --  book rich with photos and colorful anecdotes,  called Guidebook to Historic Houses and Gardens in New England: 71 Sites from the Hudson Valley East (iUniverse, 240 pages. Paperback. $22.95). Oddly,  given the cultural and historical richness of New England and the Hudson Valley, no one else has done a book quite like this before.

 The blurb on the back of the book neatly summarizes his story.

“When Willit Mason retired in the summer of 2015, he and his wife decided to celebrate with a grand tour of the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley of New York.

While they intended to enjoy the area’s natural beauty, they also wanted to visit the numerous historic estates and gardens that lie along the Hudson River and the hills of the Berkshires.

But Mason could not find a guidebook highlighting the region’s houses and gardens, including their geographic context, strengths, and weaknesses. He had no way of knowing if one location offered a terrific horticultural experience with less historical value or vice versa.

Mason wrote this comprehensive guide of 71 historic New England houses and gardens to provide an overview of each site. Organized by region, it makes it easy to see as many historic houses and gardens in a limited time.

Filled with family histories, information on the architectural development of properties and overviews of gardens and their surroundings, this is a must-have guide for any New England traveler.’’

Dr. Mason noted of his tours: “Each visit has captured me in different ways, whether it be the scenic views, architecture of the houses, gardens and landscape architecture or collections of art. As we have learned from Downton Abbey, every house has its own personal story. And most of the original owners of the houses I visited in preparing the book have made significant contributions to American history.’’

To order a book, please go to www.willitmason.com



Chris Powell: Hypocritical nonsense in debate over Conn. chief justice nomination

Arguing this week for Gov. Dannel Malloy's nomination of Associate Justice Andrew J. McDonald to be chief justice of Connecticut's Supreme Court, state Rep. William Tong (D.-Stamford), co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, fed the state House of Representatives a lot of nonsense.

"We are not in a position of second-guessing judges," Tong said. "We must honor the separation of powers. If we don't, we compromise the independence of the judiciary."

But if it's wrong for legislators to second-guess judges, why does Connecticut's Constitution give the General Assembly the power to appoint and reappoint them, just as the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to appoint judges? By what criteria should legislators decide judicial appointments?

Tong and other backers of McDonald, nearly all of them political liberals, maintain that experience, ability, and character should be decisive, not what nominees have done or are likely to do in office.

By this standard the country should have obediently accepted forever the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott v. Sandford (once a slave, always a slave), Plessy v. Ferguson (racial segregation is OK), and Lochner v. New York (labor conditions can't be regulated by government), and should obediently accept forever the court's decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (corporations have First Amendment rights) and District of Columbia v. Heller (individuals have Second Amendment rights).

Of course McDonald's supporters don't really believe their own argument. None would argue that President Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominations of Judges Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell, former segregationists, should have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate just because of their experience and good character, nor that Judge Robert H. Bork, nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan, should have been confirmed, though he was a brilliant scholar and was faulted only for holding that constitutions should be construed as they were originally understood.

The Senate rejected those nominees for political  reasons -- they were seen as too conservative and interventionist -- and all of liberalism cheered. But Connecticut is being told that judicial nominees must not be opposed for being too liberal and interventionist.

As for Tong's supposed concern for the separation of the powers of government, Connecticut's Supreme Court long has been separating the legislature from its powers. That's what the court's recent decision purporting to find capital punishment unconstitutional was about, a decision in which McDonald concurred.

In fact the separation of powers of the branches of government applies only to the exercise of those powers, not their definition, which is left to the state and federal constitutions and to statute. Deciding on judicial nominations does not violate the separation of powers.

As for judicial independence, that applies to deciding individual cases, not to the wholesale rewriting of constitutions, as the state Supreme Court did in the capital punishment case.

With the latest long-term master contract for the state employee unions, Governor Malloy has put their expensive privileges beyond control through the ordinary democratic process for a decade.

Judicial terms in Connecticut are eight years, so if McDonald is appointed chief justice, the governor may have guaranteed liberal interventionism on the court for nearly as long.

That would be more of a legacy than most governors leave.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.


Impatience time

  Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H.

Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H.

“Pruning the apple tree I scatter

Its suckers and twigs across wet snow.

March wind honeycombs the drifts,

and when my work is done I stand

in an attic window close

to spume of driven clouds.’’


--  From “A Season’s Edge,’’ by T. Alan Broughton (1936-2013), a Vermont poet and pianist.

Are N.H. state liquor stores facilitating money laundering?


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal 24.com

The logo of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. The global shape represents the worldwide products the commission sells, the triangular shape the shape of the state, and the "L" shape  for "liquor".

Most adult New Englanders know about New Hampshire’s highly lucrative state liquor stores, the revenue from which helps the Granite State avoid having state income or sales taxes. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission had a staggering (for a small state) $698.2 million in sales last year.

Consumers drive from all over the Northeast to buy cheap booze in New Hampshire.

But now, it turns out, there may be funny business, with Andru Volinsky, a member of the state’s Executive Council, calling for an investigation of the commission for, he says, enabling out-of-state bulk purchases and perhaps breaking federal tax laws. Mr. Volinsky tells New Hampshire Public Radio that the commission’s practices could “unquestionably facilitate money laundering related to criminal activities.’’

Whenever government sets itself up as a business, whether in liquor or gambling (as with state lotteries and state-government overseen casinos) the potential for associated crime should be obvious.

To read the New Hampshire Public Radio article, please hit this link:


Chuck Collins: Some business leaders agree that reducing inequality is good for the bottom line

For decades, big business leaders have warned that redistributing wealth is bad for business. Taxing the rich to pay for infrastructure and education, they say, will kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

But what if it’s the opposite? What if decades of stagnant wages and growing inequality are scrambling the golden egg and stifling the economy?

A growing body of research suggests that’s exactly what’s happening. And a growing number of business leaders now agree.

Jim Sinegal, the retired CEO of Costco, famously fended off Wall Street pressure to cut wages and made an eloquent case for a higher federal minimum wage. “The more people make, the better lives they’re going to have and the better consumers they’re going to be,” Sinegal told The Washington Post years ago.

“Our country needs less inequality and more opportunity,” agreed former Stride Rite CEO Arnold Hiatt in 2015. “Instead, we’re moving toward a society that will be economically and politically dominated by the sons and daughters of the Forbes 400.”

One of the clearest voices on the business risks of growing inequality is Peter Georgescu, a retired ad man from one of the world’s largest marketing firms. His new bookCapitalists Arise: End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation, is a stinging indictment of the way business has been done in our country.

“For the past four decades, capitalism has been slowly committing suicide,” he writes — especially shareholder capitalism, where businesses operate for the benefit of shareholders and no one else.


“Shareholder primacy has become a kind of cancer that needs to be eradicated before it destroys our way of life,” Georgescu warns.

Those views were recently echoed in a letter written to CEOs by Larry Fink, chairman of the investing giant Blackrock.

In January, Fink called on the companies Blackrock invests in to “understand the societal impact of your business as well as the ways that broad, structural trends — from slow wage growth to rising automation to climate change — affect your potential for growth.”

Businesses, Fink exhorted, need a social purpose other than making money.

Reversing inequality will require robust government action at all levels. This includes boosting the minimum wage, fairly taxing big businesses and the rich, and making robust public investments in education, infrastructure, and individual opportunity.

We also need government to crack down on wage theft and discrimination, and to protect the right to organize. Unions and activists have demanded these changes for years.

So what can supportive businesses do? Everything.

They can encourage more employees to be owners. Employees already have an ownership stake at companies such as Publix supermarkets and Southwest Airlines.

They can raise their wage floor to close the monstrous pay gap between top management and average workers — a policy long supported by business guru Peter Drucker. And they can publicly speak out in favor of policies that reduce inequality.

If nothing else, they can stop paying dues to business associations that lobby against sensible taxes and labor protections — like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which tend to be much more conservative than their members.

Can more business leaders “wake up and take action,” Georgescu challenges? Or will they “continue doing business the ways it’s been done… until the whole system risks falling apart?”

Corporate leaders should stand with ordinary Americans to push for serious public policy to halt the nation’s slide towards greater inequality.

Chuck Collins directs the Program of Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Once the sardine capital

  Union Dock in Eastport, Maine, in 1910.

Union Dock in Eastport, Maine, in 1910.

"On a boat cruising down east, sardines are scooped out of the holding seine at Eastport {Maine} at dawn. 'Sardines' may be any of several species of fish; in Maine they are usually small herring. Fish are penned in nets until the boats are ready to load. The fish are taken a short distance to canneries which work round the clock, according to the time of the catch.''

Luis Marden (1913-2003), American writer, explorer and photographer.

Eastport used to be America's sardine capital  but its  last sardine fishery closed in  2010.


Blue Cross Blue Shield in plan to expand Metro Boston bike-sharing

   Zagster  bike-sharing station on a corporate campus in Burlington, Mass.

Zagster bike-sharing station on a corporate campus in Burlington, Mass.

This is from the New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com)

"Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (Blue Cross) recently entered a six-year partnership agreement with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and bike share operator Motivate International, Inc. to expand access to bike share in the metro Boston region.

"The existing Hubway system will be rebranded as Blue Bikes to reflect Blue Cross’ support for expanding the bike share system. Currently there are 1,800 bikes, but with Blue Cross’ sponsorship there 3,000 Blue Bikes by the end of 2019, and  more than 100 new stations. Blue Cross’ support will bring brand new bikes, new mobile app features, and more valet service at busy stations. The expansion and transition to Blue Bikes will begin in spring 2018.

“We’re delighted to partner with Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville on the Blue Bikes initiative. . . Not only are we helping to expand bike share access to communities that have long been asking for the program, we’re also living up to our company’s commitment to healthy living and to environmental sustainability,” said Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The bike sharing system will remain operated by Motivate and owned by the municipalities of Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville.''


Chris Powell: Free college is just a ploy; go local, not regional

  The  arts, technologies and science center at Manchester Community College.

The  arts, technologies and science center at Manchester Community College.



Connecticut state government's great new "bipartisan budget" is already $250 million in deficit and budget deficits in the billions are forecast for years to come, but Democratic leaders in the state Senate are proposing to make community college free for students. Mere taxpayers would pay an extra $30 million or so per year.

Many Democratic legislators also favor making state financial aid available to illegal immigrant students in college.

Meanwhile state government's financial support for the innocent needy is in danger of being cut, and a commission appointed to study state government's financial trouble has just urged saving money.

So why are the Democrats so calculatingly oblivious, so intent on reminding people that they remain the Party of Free Stuff, as if anything really is free and as if state government's financial trouble and the contraction of the state's economy haven't been caused in large part by too much free stuff?

The Democrats are doubly oblivious about free community college because Connecticut's education problem is not higher education but primary education. Standardized tests show that most of the state's high school students never master high school math and English but are graduated anyway. Many then are admitted to public colleges only to take remedial courses. A Superior Court judge surveying the state's primary education system reported 18 months ago that high schools are graduating illiterates.

The Democrats say free community college will help the state's employers, who lack qualified applicants. But improving outcomes in primary education, through which everyone goes, would help employers more than free college when so many college students just repeat high school in pursuit of another false credential.

Indeed, in these circumstances free college is less a gift to students than to educators, whose unions dominate the Democratic Party. The proposal is another ploy to rile up the party's base.


TRY LOCALISM, NOT REGIONALISM: Pushing regionalism again in a series at the Connecticut Mirror this month, veteran journalist Tom Condon approvingly quotes a Massachusetts mayor who says a region that wants to prosper has to "act like a region." But Condon proposes little more than the politically correct groupthink of creating regional governments and giving them taxing authority on top of the taxing authority of state and municipal governments.

What advocates of regionalism don't notice is that Connecticut already has tried plenty of regionalism.

That's what state government is, with all its laws and policies outlawing or impairing democratic control of expenses, like binding arbitration of government employee union contracts, defined-benefit pensions for government employees, "prevailing wage" requirements for government construction projects, and the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration's forbidding dismissal of government employees even for the worst misconduct.

More regionalism would mainly let the corrupt and incompetent city governments, which dominate state government through their influence in the majority party, grab more taxes from suburbanites.

In these circumstances the chance of improvement in Connecticut would be greater with more localism, letting municipalities opt out of expensive state mandates that serve only special interests.

Even as Condon was writing his series, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp proposed raising her city's property tax rate by 11 percent rather than aggravate the city's government and welfare classes with too much economizing. Why should anyone outside New Haven want more of that?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.


Artists' personal scenery

  Images from the group show "Scapes'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, April 4-29. From left, work by Barbara Lindstrom, Carol Wontkowski and Christina Beecher.   Galatea says:  '''Scapes'  is a members group show incorporating the works of photography, painting, sculpture, and mixed media. All artists use the idea of 'Scapes' in their works in a variety of ways: landscapes, mindscapes, places to escape to/from, and interpret what these scenarios mean to them.  "'Scapes,' a term extracted from landscape, denoting an extensive view, is represented in a variety of ways in this interdisciplinary exhibition featuring the works of six gallery artists. Representing many forms of scapes -- landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes, dreamscapes, mindscapes -- the mixed media exhibition conveys a sense of place and fresh imaginative views of the artist's personal scenery.''

Images from the group show "Scapes'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, April 4-29. From left, work by Barbara Lindstrom, Carol Wontkowski and Christina Beecher.

Galatea says:

'''Scapes'  is a members group show incorporating the works of photography, painting, sculpture, and mixed media. All artists use the idea of 'Scapes' in their works in a variety of ways: landscapes, mindscapes, places to escape to/from, and interpret what these scenarios mean to them.

"'Scapes,' a term extracted from landscape, denoting an extensive view, is represented in a variety of ways in this interdisciplinary exhibition featuring the works of six gallery artists. Representing many forms of scapes -- landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes, dreamscapes, mindscapes -- the mixed media exhibition conveys a sense of place and fresh imaginative views of the artist's personal scenery.''

Jill Richardson: Time for an honest talk about 'free trade'


Via OtherWords.org

America, can we talk? We need to talk about “free trade.” We’ve needed to have this conversation for a while, actually. Like, since the 1980s.

For the past several decades, the U.S. political establishment has advocated free trade as part of a broader economic ideology called neoliberalism.

Now, you may need to ignore the word “liberal” in there — its meaning here is different from how most people use it in our politics.

Neoliberalism is not a Democratic idea. Ronald Reagan was a huge champion of it. In more recent decades, all of our presidents from both major political parties were on board with it — until, to some extent, Trump.

The simple way to understand neoliberalism is that it’s the package of economic and trade policies the U.S. has lived under since the Reagan administration. Deregulation. Privatization. That sort of thing.

One pillar of neoliberal ideology is free trade.

In business school, I was taught not to question it. The idea was that if countries removed trade tariffs, then everyone would benefit.

Each country would produce what it’s most “efficient” at producing: Developing nations will manufacture goods with cheap labor. The U.S. will grow lots of corn and soybeans and export them. And everyone wins because there will be low prices.\

The counter arguments are often humanitarian and environmental. If we’re going to buy clothing and iPhones from nations with cheap labor, lax environmental laws, and few labor rights, then the people who make the goods we buy will work in unsafe and inhumane conditions.

That’s essentially what happened.

For example, in 2013, a building housing garment factories in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring thousands more. Cracks had appeared in the building before it collapsed, and an engineer declared it unsafe. Factory owners ordered their workers back to work — and then the building collapsed.

The workers were producing clothes for export, including top U.S. brands. But, on the upside (say the neoliberals), clothing made in Bangladesh is nice and cheap in the United States.

Also, corporations get massive profits. You can make more money when you can pay workers only $3 a day.

Free trade may help our consumers and corporate CEOs — but it hurts workers. In the book Threads, Jane Collins details how the garment industry changed after some companies began sending jobs overseas.

Workers in the U.S. became limited in how much they could push for higher wages. They knew that if they pushed too hard, their employer would fire them all and move the factory to Mexico, Vietnam, or Bangladesh.

Furthermore, an American company that wanted to pay its workers well was limited in its ability to do so, because it was competing with other companies that paid less for labor overseas.

A similar trend has played out, rather more famously, with manufacturing jobs.

For some voters in hard-hit regions, part of Trump’s appeal is that he was one of the first major party candidates to oppose free trade.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s got a great alternative for it.

Pugnaciously declaring he’s implementing a steel tariff has so far done little more than outrage our allies and provoke Europe to retaliate by putting tariffs on American goods like bourbon and blue jeans, which could also hurt American workers.

Trade wars won’t fix the deeper problem of neoliberalism. But maybe future leaders will see that it pays to question the costs of “free trade.”

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

Wood is actually a bad source of energy for New England



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

'New England has lots of woodland and so we’re tempted to see biomass as a good source of “renewable energy.’’ The theory goes that, yes, burning wood, notably in the form of wood pellets, releases carbon dioxide but growing trees absorbs it and so the whole process can be seen as “carbon neutral’’.

But a report from an outfit called Not Carbon Neutral says that CO2 emissions far exceed the absorbing capacity  of the living trees planted or maintained as future fuel sources.  The report’s author, Mary Booth, told ecoRI News journalist Tim Faulkner:

“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions.’’ She included in her calculations the fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels.

Southern New England gets some electricity  from burning wood in northern New England.

The report reminds me of the wood-burning mania in New England during the energy crises of the ‘70s. It was handy to have all that wood available  for heating in New England to offset a little the swelling price of heating oil, but the wood stoves caused serious air pollution in many parts of our region, including in rural areas once noted for their clean air.

So wind, solar and hydro are the way to go in New England’s energy future.

To read Mr. Faulkner’s article, please hit this link:


For New England, think bar fight


"Most people, when they imagine New England, think about old colonial homes, white houses with black shutters, whales, and sexually morbid WASPs with sensible vehicles and polite political opinions. This is incorrect. If you want to get New England right, just imagine a giant mullet in paint-stained pants and a Red Sox hat being pushed into the back of a cruiser after a bar fight.''

-- Matt Taibbi, journalist

For Greenfield storeowners, Amazon much tougher foe than Walmart

  Greenfield in 1917, around its commercial heyday.

Greenfield in 1917, around its commercial heyday.

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

'The Atlantic had a good article (“A Small Town Kept Walmart Out. Now It Faces Amazon,’’ March 2) about Greenfield, a town in western Massachusetts.

Greenfield has managed to keep big-box retailers out of town in order to preserve locally owned stores. But now local store owners and consumers who want to keep them are fighting a bigger enemy – Amazon. The behemoth online retailer offers a convenience that’s very difficult to compete against. Alana Semuels writes:

“Greenfield and other towns across New England are learning that while they might have been able to keep out big-box stores through zoning changes and old-fashioned advocacy, there’s not much they can do about consumers’ shift to e-commerce. They can’t physically keep out e-commerce stores—which don’t have a physical presence in towns that residents could push back against—and they certainly can’t restrict residents’ Internet access. ‘It’s one thing for me to try and fight over land use in the town I live in, or in somebody else's town,’  {local leading} big-box foe {Al} Norman told me, ‘But e-shopping creates a real problem for activists, because on some level, shopping online is a choice people make, and it’s hard to intrude yourself in that.”’

Beyond the demise of local business that keep much of their revenues in their area,  there’s a hollowing out of local civil society as people have fewer opportunities to meet in local  stores; there are fewer of them as more and more folks order more and more products from home or office. As the Internet society heads toward its fourth decade, we’ll need to find different ways to encourage locals to meet and to participate in their community other than, say, joining AA.

To read The Atlantic’s article, please hit this link:


Llewellyn King: Thinking machines will replace innumerable skilled jobs



Consider it as the work dichotomy.

There is a shortage in the millions for skilled labor jobs in the United States. The country is desperate for men and women who drive trucks, operate machines, weld, wield hammers – or can fill skilled jobs in dozens of categories, from bulldozer operator to utility lineman.

Bill Hillman, chief executive officer of the National Utility Contractors Association, the organization that represents contractors (people who do everything, from replacing electricity poles to working down manholes to operating heavy equipment), says getting help is a major problem for his members. So they are setting up training programs and working with schools and community colleges.

But these also are some of the people who could be jobless due to artificial intelligence (AI) in the near future. Thomas Kochan, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, told me this “middle of the labor market” is coming under attack by AI deployment.

John Savage, professor of computer science at Brown University, foresees a need for major retraining of workers with the spread of AI. But he told me he is “optimistic”: He sees major displacements but new opportunities.

Displacement is a worry for workers, but so is job quality deterioration in the so-named gig economy or freelance economy: a volatile labor pool where the employer holds most of the cards.

Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups: arts and design, computer and information technology, media and communication, transportation and material moving, construction and extraction. They are working here and there without permanence, medical insurance or pension provisions, like employer 401(k) contributions.

That is for starters and it is happening now. Then comes the apocalypse when millions of workers find themselves displaced by thinking machines. Think of what happened to elevator operators in cities when elevators were automated.

The first to go might be taxi drivers, some truck drivers, airline pilots and others in transportation. Already in Phoenix, you can ride in a robot taxi operated by Waymo, the Google self-driving car project. Truck makers, stirred on by potential competition from new entrants, like Tesla, are hard at perfecting autonomous intercity trucks. 

To my mind, the issue is not whether but when. There are more than 3 million truck drivers on U.S. roads. Not all will be displaced by AI, but if 1 million go, there will be considerable downward pressure on wages.

Traditionally, and Savage points this out, automation has led to a surge in new, different jobs. Ned Ludd, who with his followers destroyed mechanical weaving machines in England in the early 1800s, was wrong. Mechanized weaving added far more related jobs than those lost.

But this time it could be different, warns John Raymont, chief strategy officer of Kurion, an advanced technology nuclear company. He says the difference is that automation heretofore has led to more products, and therefore more jobs. Artificial intelligence threatens to take away jobs without producing new products, which themselves produced new jobs.

Take the automobile production line: It led to more people being able to afford cars and more jobs maintaining and fueling those cars. It enhanced America’s growing prosperity.

So far, AI appears to be aimed directly at employment. In the way that cheap labor in Asia sucked manufacturing jobs out of the United States, so machines may take over skilled jobs from airline pilots to Uber drivers, Raymont says. Other jobs may still be safe, including plumbers, he says.

And it will not be just manual workers who will have their jobs taken over by wily computers. Accounting, tax preparing and auditing, money lending, loading and unloading ships and trucks will be done by machines guided by artificial intelligence. A ship, it is theorized, will be able to leave a U.S. port without the aid of seamen or dock workers and sail to Singapore, dock and unload autonomously.

Job displacement may have this opportunity: More leisure time in which people can play golf on greens maintained by thinking mowers, aerifiers and fertilizer spreaders. After they play, a machine may make them an extra dry martini at the club bar.

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


Integrating drawings and music

   "Compania Irene Rodriguez'' (watercolor and ink), by Carolyn Newberger, in  her show "In Concert,'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, April 4-29.

 "Compania Irene Rodriguez'' (watercolor and ink), by Carolyn Newberger, in  her show "In Concert,'' at Galatea Fine Art, Boston, April 4-29.


She told the gallery:

"Sitting in a darkened concert hall, with a loose hand and receptive mind I try to capture the urgency, spark, and character of sublime music and dance.  The sounds and movements animate my pen as their spirits penetrate my soul.

"For the past several years, my husband, Eli, and I, both musicians, have been reviewing music and dance performances at the Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, and Aston Magna festivals. We work for The Berkshire Edge, a newspaper of ideas, news and culture serving Western Massachusetts. 

"Integrating drawings with music and dance commentary fits naturally into my complex identity as an artist, writer and musician. In this show, the first of its kind, I offer illustrative reviews with their attendant drawings that express my respect for art’s capacity to exalt and inspire.''