Vermont and the sense of home

  Town hall in East Topsham, Vt.    -- Photo by Magicpiano

Town hall in East Topsham, Vt.

-- Photo by Magicpiano

“Home is the word that comes closest to explaining what has become known as the Vermont mystique, for it suggests a herbage of stability and security that is elsewhere at a premium in the rootlessness of the present day. The greater the complexity and anonymity of the urban and suburban sprawl, the more endearing the fundamental values of a natural backdrop.

That is the appeal of a state that has had the wisdom or good fortune or both to safeguard the trappings of its traditions, and of the rural past, the heartland of the American experience.’’

-- Historian Ralph Nading Hill, in an essay called “The Magic of East Corinth,’’ in Arthur Griffin’s New England: The Four Seasons

  Burke Mountain, in Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom''.

Burke Mountain, in Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom''.

Old N.E. money and the corruption behind it

  At Louisburg Square, on Boston's Beacon Hill, a center of old monied New England families.

At Louisburg Square, on Boston's Beacon Hill, a center of old monied New England families.

"{John} Cheever’s writing would reveal a keen sense of what his old New England family had lost. He lovingly bathed his prose in details such as the polished silver, the fragrant linen, the cocktails on the terrace and the sound of someone rolling the tennis court.  He set his stories in boarding schools, country clubs and summer cottages on the sea, and he peopled them with headmasters and shipyard executives, cooks and gardeners, lawyers and ladies who wouldn’t allow beer cans on the dinner table. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald, he romanticized wealth while exposing the corruption behind it.''

-- From the New England Historical Society

The right day

  Mt. Kearsage, in Wilmot, N.H.

Mt. Kearsage, in Wilmot, N.H.

"Now, when I hear she has died,

from the open door I look across at New Hampshire:

There, too, the sun is bright and clouds

make their shadowy ways along the horizon,

and it occurs to me? How could it not have been today?''

-- From "How Could She Not, for Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)'' by the late Galway Kinnell, a Vermont-based poet. He was writing about the poet Jane Kenyon, who lived with her husband,. Donald Hall, a former U.S. poet laureate and an  essayist, in Wilmot, N.H., near Mt. Kearsage. Hall died on June 23.



Pay them to occupy storefronts

  Typical New England Main Street, this one in Webster, Mass., an old factory town.

Typical New England Main Street, this one in Webster, Mass., an old factory town.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Far too many downtowns have been hollowed out first by big-box chain stores and their windswept parking lots on the edge of town and then by the Internet -- especially by the near-monopoly Amazon.

So some state legislators in Massachusetts, which has many once-thriving and now moribund, if still-pretty, downtowns,  seek to revitalize them with an economic-development bill that, reports The Boston Globe, “would provide up to $500,000 a year in tax credits to merchants who {decide to} occupy vacant storefronts in downtown areas. The promise of new jobs would help a retailer’s case, but it’s not required. Other factors could come into play: anticipated pedestrian traffic, synergy with nearby businesses, a commitment to improve the storefront, matching funds from a landlord or community.’’

This would have to be a long-term experiment but, depending on the total price tag, worth a try in a few places. The big question is whether you can lure consumers who  have grown addicted to the Internet back into  the habit of patronizing small stores, for their visual, tactile and social pleasures. This little initiative is as much about rebuilding a sense of community as it is about economic development.

Maybe Rhode Island should try this sort of experiment in, well,  Pawtucket – especially if the PawSox decide to become the WorSox.


James P. Freeman: Aided by the U.S., China's hybrid economy looks to continue to surge

As Americans escaped for burgers, barkers and beer over  the Fourth of July, they were not only celebrating the nation’s independence. Some well-informed ones might  also have been celebrating that the trade war with China had not arrived in their backyards before the fireworks finale. Surely, they are mindful that 99 percent of the fireworks they set off came directly from China.

Maybe President  Trump didn’t get the memo that imports of fireworks dwarfed exports by a ratio of more than 40 to 1. As NPR amusingly noted, this “exploding trade deficit” has not prompted the kind of protectionist crackdown that the president has directed at other industries. At least not yet.

As Trump lights his own bottle rocket of tariffs targeted at China (so far, 25 percent on $50 billion out of $636 billion in total exchange of goods), with threats he may use heavier artillery -- and with China countering, dollar for dollar -- it is particularly timely to revisit a recurring but relevant question: Can China’s economy continue to flourish moving forward with the hybrid (capitalistic/highly controlled) model that the government has implemented?

The answer is a resounding Yes!

Last March, Yukon Huang, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote in The New York Times that “China has never been a normal economy.” He believes that unbalanced growth is a sign of successful industrialization; surging debt is a marker of financial deepening, rather than profligate spending; and, perhaps surprisingly, corruption has spurred, not stalled growth. Future success, he allows, hinges “on whether the Chinese government can strike the right balance between state intervention and market forces.”  Huang also says China’s remarkable progress can be credited in part to its leaders’ willingness “to set aside communism for pragmatism.”

Cary Huang, writing for the South China Morning Post last fall, as the centennial of Lenin’s Russian Revolution quietly passed, says that China is now more a “Leninist capitalist state” than a “Marxist socialist one.” Even as China is among the most exploitative nations in the world, (income and wealth inequalities, lack of political and other freedoms), “it is all the more ridiculous to call an economy, the world’s second-largest, ‘socialist’ when 70 percent of it is privately owned, when it hosts the world’s largest army of billionaires, or when it grapples with issues such as a debt crisis, stock market woes and a real estate bubble,” argues Huang.

The creation and embrace of this hybrid capitalism -- state capitalism -- is not entirely new. However, China has fostered (and to a lesser extent Malaysia and Russia also have) the rise of what The Economist called in 2012 a new kind of “hybrid corporation.” It behaves like a private-sector multinational but is backed by the state.

These new economic and corporate alloys of conventional capitalism might confound certain world leaders (and perhaps distract the one with Twitter Tourette’s syndrome) but China’s leaders intend to continue policies that have reaped rewards.

As Americans look to the next quarter, the Chinese look to the next quarter century.

Earlier this year, China’s Communist party cleared the way for President Xi Jinping to rule for life. He has been president since 2012 but the move is seen as a means to consolidate his power and continue his successful policies (not to mention his predecessors'). Richard McGregor, senior fellow at the Lowry Institute, told The Financial Times this past February, “I don’t see any indication of a faster pace of what Westerners see as economic reforms and what Chinese see as tinkering with their hybrid economic model.”

China was the world’s largest economy  until it was displaced by Great Britain as the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe. China (aka the Middle Kingdom) then fell behind -- remaining agrarian and poor. But since economic reforms were implemented in 1978, China has roared backed. From that period until 2014, its annual GDP growth averaged 10 percent; now it’s closer to 6.8 percent (U.S. first-quarter annualized GDP growth was calculated at 2.2 percent). China has raised per capita GDP almost 49-fold, from 155 current U.S. oollars (in 1978) to 7,590 U.S. dollars (in 2014), lifting 800 million people out of poverty.

It is expected that in 10 to 20 years this demographic will become a massive middle class.

As China shifts emphasis from heavy industry toward health care, technology, education and entertainment to accommodate a consumer-oriented economy, (and self-reliance) it already is the world’s largest exporter, according to  17 percent of its goods and services head to the U.S., 15.9 percent to the European Union, 15.5 percent to Hong Kong and 6.4 percent to Japan. (As President Trump further agitates trade with North American, Asian and European allies, China will absolutely exploit such frictions.) China is expected to become the world’s largest economy once again by 2030.

With President Trump considering a military Space Force, the Chinese are wisely filling space on earth. In 2013 China launched the Belt and Road Initiative. Having underwritten $900 billion in loans already, China aims to modernize the infrastructure of the ancient Silk Road, linking Europe and Eurasia. With 71 countries participating -- from Poland to Pakistan -- it also promises to revive ex-Soviet states, according The Economist. And strategically important Turkey, where over 1,000 Chinese firms operate.

But America still factors into China’s long-term prosperity.  As long as America runs large debts (everything suggests that it will continue) China prospers. It owns $1.19 trillion, or nearly 20 percent, of U.S. debt held by foreign countries. Kimberly Amadeo wrote this past May in that this helps China’s growth by keeping its currency weaker than the dollar. This also keeps its products (hence exports) cheaper than U.S. goods. 

As America’s largest foreign creditor, China is able to exert more political and economic influence over America as it unwittingly finances China’s grand hybrid experimentations.

James P. Freeman, a former banker, is a New England-based writer. He is a former columnist with The Cape Cod Times and The New Boston Post. 



John Peffer: Trump and Putin share hatred of liberal democracy and the E.U.

  The European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France.

The European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France.


Donald Trump didn’t fly to Europe to meet with NATO, European leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He got there by stepping through the looking glass.

Once on the other side, he made a series of extraordinary statements.

He accused Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia.” He declared that the European Union is a “foe” of the United States. He told British Prime Minister Theresa May that she should sue the E.U. instead of negotiate with it.

And, just days after the U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed once again that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of electing Trump, Trump said that he believed in Vladimir Putin’s claims of Russian innocence.

Why on earth would Trump embark on this surrealistic misadventure in foreign policy? Does Russia have some dirt on him?

Maybe. But whatever else is going on, Trump’s erratic behavior reflects a very specific worldview. Trump is attacking Europe and siding with Russia for political — and not just personal — reasons.

A segment of the U.S. right wing, which has now coalesced around Trump, has always been skeptical about Europe. It hates the social-democratic ideals baked into the European system. Indeed, any U.S. politician that leans in that direction inevitably gets branded a “European socialist.”

Then there are the more pacifist inclinations of Europe. Old hawks like Donald Rumsfeld famously railed against such E.U. stalwarts as France and Germany that opposed the U.S. misadventure in Iraq. (Remember “freedom fries”?)

These trends converge in the Euroskepticism expressed by media outlets like Fox News, a sentiment that heavily influenced the George W. Bush administration. To them, the European Union represented a kind of super-socialism that was spreading  and threatening U.S. global dominance.

The other major contribution to Trump’s worldview comes from Europe itself. Right-wing nationalist movements such as the Brexit campaign have tried to unravel the European Union.

These Euroskeptics view Brussels as an outside force trying to impose unwelcome regulations, immigrants, and political customs. For instance, the Polish and Hungarian governments are establishing illiberal regimes that challenge freedom of the press, judicial independence, and the free functioning of civil society the EU demands.

But there’s another strong Euroskeptic voice: Vladimir Putin.

Under Putin, Russia has supplied rhetorical and financial support for far-right wing parties throughout Europe — the National Front in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy. Putin and the Euroskeptics are anti-immigrant and anti-liberal, and they favor nationalist and law-and-order policies.

But Putin also sees opportunity in Euroskepticism. A weaker E.U. won’t be able to attract new, post-Soviet members such as Ukraine or Moldova. A weaker E.U. will be more dependent on Russian energy exports. A weaker E.U. would have less power to criticize Russia’s political and foreign-policy conduct.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.

The president has declared Europe an enemy because of its trade policies. But that’s just a red herring. He actually has a more systemic critique of the E.U. that coincides with the worldview of Vladimir Putin, Europe’s right-wing nationalists, and Euroskeptics among America’s conservatives.

This is very bad news. If the crisis in transatlantic relations were just about trade, it could be handled by some hardnosed negotiating. If the disputes with the EU and NATO were simply about Trump’s disruptive style, then everything could be resolved by a regime change at the polls in 2020.

But Trump has launched a much larger, ideological assault on European institutions and values. What’s worse: It’s part of the same attack on liberal values here in the United States.

Forget about NATO: Maybe we need a transatlantic alliance against Trump.

John Feffer wrote the dystopian novel Splinterlands and directs Foreign Policy In Focus, where a longer version of this piece appeared. 





'Expansion and containment'

   Elspeth Halvorsen, "Mermaid and The Horseshoe Crab'' (box construction), in her show "Constructions, '' at  the Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown,  July 28-Aug. 19.      The gallery says:    " Elspeth Halvorsen's mixed media constructions balance expansion and containment, liberty and boundaries, filling her work with found objects gathered in surrealist assemblages. The group of assemblages in this exhibition were created throughout her career, focusing on minimal and abstract space and yin/yang balance. They create the sense of miniaturist surrealistic stage sets - or even temples - wherein her repeating symbols of moon, sphere/egg, mirror/ reflecting surface, draw our attention psychologically inward.''          

Elspeth Halvorsen, "Mermaid and The Horseshoe Crab'' (box construction), in her show "Constructions, '' at  the Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown,  July 28-Aug. 19.

The gallery says:

"Elspeth Halvorsen's mixed media constructions balance expansion and containment, liberty and boundaries, filling her work with found objects gathered in surrealist assemblages. The group of assemblages in this exhibition were created throughout her career, focusing on minimal and abstract space and yin/yang balance. They create the sense of miniaturist surrealistic stage sets - or even temples - wherein her repeating symbols of moon, sphere/egg, mirror/ reflecting surface, draw our attention psychologically inward.'' 



Before the ski lifts

  On the Franconia Ridge Trail, in the White Mountains.

On the Franconia Ridge Trail, in the White Mountains.

"A visit to New Hampshire supplies the most resources to a traveler, and confers the most benefit on the mind and taste, when it lifts him above mere appetite for wildness, ruggedness, and the feeling of mass and precipitous elevation, into a perception and love of the refined grandeur, the chaste sublimity, the airy majesty overlaid with tender and polished bloom, in which the landscape splendor of a noble mountain lies.''

-- Thomas Starr King, (1824-1864), Unitarian minister and author of  The White Hills; their Legends, Landscapes, & Poetry.

Frank Carini: The big environmental benefits of composting toilets

  A composting toilet at Crane Beach, in Ipswich, Mass.    -- Clivus New England

A composting toilet at Crane Beach, in Ipswich, Mass.

-- Clivus New England

Today’s composting toilets are not the equivalent of a port-a-potty stashed away in the basement. In fact, some models look similar to everyday commodes, but they all save water for drinking and showering. And they don’t stink, require chemicals to clean, or flush or discharge human waste into the natural environment.

The average single-family home in the United States uses about 88,000 gallons of water annually, according to a 2016 study. Some 24 percent of the daily usage, or about 30 gallons, is flushed down the toilet.

Despite federal regulations requiring that toilets use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush, toilets made before 1992 may be using up to 7 gallons a flush. Even with the reduced 1.6-gallon standard, however, a single toilet flushed five times a day will waste nearly 2,340 gallons of potable water annually.

“Unfortunately we don’t price or value water the way we should,” said Conor Lally, an ecological sanitation planner and installer with a background in watershed science and ecological design. “Composting toilets just make more sense because you are not creating that wastewater to begin with. It’s a better way of managing that material.”

The Providence resident and New York native co-founded Nutrient Networks to focus on “root cause solutions to the economic and environmental problems associated with conventional water, wastewater, and food systems.”

Those behind this fairly new endeavor, including co-founder Danilo Morales and composting toilet guru and vermicomposter Ben Goldberg, design, build, and install composting and management systems that divert valuable nutrients from the waste stream, reduce pollution, and help close the food-nutrient cycle.

They believe such efforts play a critical role in the larger movement toward localizing energy, water, and food, building soils, and improving public health.

Treating human waste with septic systems and wastewater treatment plants is costly in both energy and resources, contributes to soil and water pollution, contaminates drinking-water supplies, and leads to combined sewage overflows into important water bodies.

As the human population continues to increase — 7.6 billion and counting — planners and public-health professionals are beginning to recognize the need for environmentally sound human waste treatment and recycling methods. The notion of converting human waste to a usable resource, however, isn’t a new concept.

Wasting a resource

Lally’s first job out of college — he graduated from Boston University with a master’s degree in energy and environmental analysis — was working for John Todd Ecological Design doing constructive wetlands for wastewater treatment in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod. His interest soon shifted to dry sanitation and composting toilets. He began working with Goldberg.

Lally said Todd’s ecologically designed wastewater-treatment systems still have a place, “but what we started to realize was it was a smarter way of doing a stupid thing, because at the end of the day we were still facilitating people pooping in their drinking water.”

“It was a sexier way of cleaning it up, but at the basis of it still was maybe not the best option, so I became more interested in not creating the problem to begin with,” he continued. “I think that’s what composting toilets and ecological sanitation is all about.”

The work of Nutrient Networks includes educational workshops, graywater management and rain harvesting, urine diversion planning and installation, and composting toilet planning and installation.

Originally commercialized in Sweden, composting toilets have been an established technology for more than three decades, but there’s still plenty of hesitation when it comes to installing one in a home or making them part of 21st-century building codes. In fact, one of the major obstacles holding back composting toilet use in the United States are regulations geared toward flush systems and their waste of water.

Composting toilet systems — sometimes called biological toilets, dry toilets, or waterless toilets — contain and control the composting of human waste and toilet paper. And, unlike a septic system, composting toilets rely on aerobic bacteria to break down wastes, just as they do in a backyard compost pile.

Lally said the next step for ecological sanitation is taking it to the watershed scale or community scale to have a broader positive impact on the environment, most notably on water bodies.

“That hasn’t necessarily happened yet, but that’s what we are hoping to do,” he said. “To kind of make the next jump with all of this.”

Nutrient Networks travels across New England installing residential composting toilets and designing and building more complex wastewater systems. The company, for instance, has installed two composting toilets at the Listening Tree Cooperative in Chepachet, R.I., and seven at Round the Bend Farm in South Dartmouth, Mass.

Lally has also traveled to New Zealand and the Grand Canyon to work on ecological sanitation projects.

The state of Rhode Island installed its first composting toilet during a major renovation of the Misquamicut State beach pavilion in the 1990s. Today, there are more than 20 composting toilets at state parks, beaches, and campgrounds.

Shoveling humanure

Composting toilets only treat human waste, so a separate wastewater system, either a septic tank or sewer hookup, is needed to handle dish washing, laundry, and bathing.

Composting toilets can be retrofitted into an existing bathroom or incorporated into new construction. They come in many shapes and sizes depending upon the number of users. They can be homemade, custom-built, or manufactured.

The way they work isn’t “dissimilar from your backyard composting,” Lally said. “It relies on the same science, but there is the element of potential pathogens that has to be taken seriously. But with enough retention time it can produce a very safe, nutrient-rich compost that can be worked back into the soil rather than flushed out into our water bodies.”

He said maintenance of most systems isn’t difficult or time consuming, but “very important to do.”

The most important thing when selecting a composting toilet is to choose a system that adequately meets your home or business needs, according to Goldberg, who has been installing composting toilet systems in private residences, businesses, and public facilities across New England since the 1980s.

Lally noted model and system choices come down to preferences.

“There’s a lot of different systems out there so someone might be more interested in being more engaged and want to actually have a very simple bucket-style system where they are more frequently bringing a bucket of humanure out to a secondary compost site,” he said. “Other people might not have any interest in having that level of involvement in managing their own humanure.”

He said some of the more advanced, large-capacity systems such as the Phoenix and Clivus Multrum have very simple maintenance tasks and everything happens within a basement tank. Regular management of most composting toilet systems requires adding carbon-based bulking material such as pine shavings or saw dust.

“I think it’s good for people to be a little bit more aware and engaged in how humanure can be managed,” Lally said. “We see it as a resource not as a waste.”

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRI News (, where this piece first ran.



Chris Powell: She tries to inspire by pretending she's oppressed


With her first television commercial in the primary for the Democratic nomination for Congress from Connecticut's 5th District, Jahana Hayes is pitching her inspiring personal story. She is the daughter of an unmarried drug addict, was raised by her grandmother in public housing in Waterbury, became a single mother herself at 17, succeeded in community college, was hired as a teacher in the city, and two years ago was chosen Connecticut's and then the country's teacher of the year. 

But inspiring as it is, Hayes's story really isn't so unusual. Indeed, rising from adversity to success may be the oldest story of American politics, going back to Honest Abe the Rail Splitter and beyond, just as the American story generally is the steady democratization of society, a trend of such momentum that it has sparked a war of independence, a civil war, and a civil rights revolution. 

Hayes's commercial seems to deny it all. 

Hayes is black and in her commercial she says people like her "aren't supposed to run for Congress," adding, "I know the system does not reflect us." 

So how come "the system" made her state and national teacher of the year? How did she win nearly half the vote at the 5th District's Democratic convention while having no political record and without most of her own supporters knowing anything about her besides her race and her teaching award? What kind of oppression is that? 

Of course it hasn't hurt her candidacy that the teacher unions control state government and Connecticut's Democratic Party and are the party's biggest constituency nationally. There's plenty of oppression in that but none of it is against Hayes. Indeed, it's all in her favor. 

Further, if Hayes is elected she will become the second black person elected to Congress from Connecticut, not the first, and not even the first from Waterbury. Twenty-eight years ago that honor went to a Republican, Gary Franks, an alderman whose own background was not privileged either but working-class. 

Ironically, the Waterbury congressional district is considered the most politically conservative in the state. 

At the end of her commercial Hayes sinks to playing the race and gender cards. "If Congress starts to look like us," she says, "no one can stop us. This is our moment -- to act, to organize, and bring our truth to power." 

But other than changing the racial and gender composition of Congress -- while, of course, leaving undisturbed the white Democrats who fill the other places in Connecticut's delegation -- Hayes comes out for nothing more than "better jobs, stronger schools, and affordable health care." Those aren't "truths" at all but empty platitudes. 

The recent history of the district Hayes would represent tends to contradict her assertion that changing the "looks" of Congress will change much. For both Franks and the Democrat Hayes aims to succeed, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, were quickly corrupted by power. 

Too impressed with himself, Franks ridiculously began writing an autobiography soon after reaching Congress, lost touch with his district, and was defeated for re-election after three terms. Esty's gender made her a symbol of change and she postured against sexual harassment, but then she coddled and concealed sexual harassment on her own staff. Exposed, she was induced to make her third term her last. 

"Put not your trust in princes," the psalm says. Their political ads aren't much more reliable. 

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


'Summer selves'

"In that latitude the temperature flirted with a hundred degrees for a few of the dog days, but to a child it can hardly ever be too hot. I liked the sun licking the backs of my legs, and the sweat between my shoulder blades, and the violet evenings, with ice cream and fireflies, wherein the long day slowly cooled. I liked the ants piling up dirt like coffee grounds between the bricks of our front walk, and the milkweed spittle in the vacant lot next door. I liked the freedom of shorts, sneakers, and striped T-shirt, with freckles and a short hot-weather haircut.

"We love easily in summer, perhaps, because we love our summer selves.”

― John Updike

'The power of the line'

   "  Mustard Dollops   '' (handwoven textile), b   y Gabrielle Ferreira, in the group    show "Seeking the Line,'' at    Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Mass.       The "Line" refers to the mixed media and textile renderings by  four exhibiting artists who have created "rich compositions in the process of studying the power of the line,'' the gallery says.    Ferrerira   i   s  a textile artist influenced by her Cape Verdean and Portuguese heritage.

"Mustard Dollops'' (handwoven textile), by Gabrielle Ferreira, in the group show "Seeking the Line,'' at Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Mass. The "Line" refers to the mixed media and textile renderings by  four exhibiting artists who have created "rich compositions in the process of studying the power of the line,'' the gallery says.  Ferrerira is a textile artist influenced by her Cape Verdean and Portuguese heritage.

The steamer crisis

  Steamers photographed in Gloucester, Mass.

Steamers photographed in Gloucester, Mass.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

]One of the joys of living near the New England coast used to be eating soft-shelled clams - -called “steamers’’ because that’s how they’re cooked. But they’re getting much harder to find.

Apparently, a major reason is an increase in invasive green crabs, which like the warmer water, associated with global warming, we’ve had along the New England coast the last few decades; these crabs eat the clams.

Perhaps encouraging the development of steamer aquaculture in places that can be protected from green crabs and other predators associated with warming seas will be necessary if we want to continue to enjoy these delicious shellfish. And the heart-stopping butter you dip them in.

David Warsh: The two NATOs

“Disastrous,” was how the Financial Times yesterday described Donald Trump’s visit to Europe. Were you to extend Trump’s influence indefinitely into the future, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy for the past 70 years, would be finished.

If, on the other hand, Trump is repudiated in 2020 – my guess is that he will be – the future of NATO depends on what happens in the congressional elections of 2018 and 2020, and the presidential elections of 2020 and 2024.

That means the discussion of NATO can go forward, at least tentatively, pretty much without reference to Trump’s boorish behavior in Belgium and Britain last week. That future has relatively little to do with whether member nations will spend more of their gross domestic product on defense.

There are, in fact, two NATOs.  The first was cobbled together in a hurry in 1948 in response to a Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia and the blockade of Berlin.  The second emerged, starting in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first was shepherded into existence by Harry Truman.  The second was created by Bill Clinton.

When the Berlin Wall was dismantled, in 1989, the reunification of Germany, a key U.S. foreign policy objective in the years since the end of World War II, was suddenly within reach.  First, however, the question of the possibility of a unified Germany’s status within NATO had to be resolved. In exchange for assurances by the administration of George H. W. Bush that NATO would stop there, “would not move an inch” farther east, Russian leaders assented and the armed forces of the former Soviet satellite switched sides.

President Bill Clinton didn’t feel bound by any such promise.. Clinton had visited the Soviet Union in 1970 as a graduate student and had formed his own ideas.  He named as Deputy Secretary of State his roommate from those days, former Time Magazine Moscow correspondent Strobe Talbott, and quietly prepared to offer membership to Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which by then were actively seeking it.

As Clinton’s intention became more widely known, senior figures in his administration, including Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and his deputy William Perry, warned privately of a “train wreck” if NATO enlargement proceeded.  Foreign policy intellectuals of both parties, led by Cold War strategist George Kennan, and including Senate Armed Services Committee head Sam Nunn, arms control negotiator Paul Nitze, and Senator Bill Bradley, went public with their opposition in 1996, on the eve of the formal vote.

Clinton and Talbott were undeterred. After the re-election of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, planning began to offer NATO membership to seven more former Soviet satellites: the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, plus Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia (now separated from the Czech Republic), Macedonia and Slovenia.

George W. Bush replaced Clinton in 2001 and, after 9/11, proceeded with the expansion that the Clinton team had planned, while also invading Afghanistan and Iraq. After the Bush administration quietly supported the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, and, the Russians believed, withheld key information about separatist terrorist activity out of sympathy with Chechen independence aims, Russian president Vladimir Putin protested strongly against American’s “unipolar” ambitions in a speech to an international security meeting in Munich in 2007. The next year, Russia briefly went to war against Georgia to make his point.

The Obama administration carried on with NATO enlargement after 2009, overseeing the admission of Croatia and Albania that the Bush administration had planned, adding Montenegro to the list, and bruiting the possibility of membership for Georgia and Ukraine. In 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Putin’s reelection to a third term as president, enraging him. In 2013, her successor, John Kerry, supported a second “color revolution” in Ukraine. Those events then led in March 2014 to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

This second version of NATO is often lumped together with the first. Enough time has passed that veterans of the Cold War are aged; the policy-makers who would have succeeded them had George H.  W. Bush been re-elected in 1992 have been mostly on the sidelines for twenty-five years. Architects of the second NATO dominate the mainstream news. Thus talk show host Rachel Maddow last week introduced Victoria Nuland as “one of the most experienced American diplomats walking the earth.”

In fact Nuland began her governmental career by as Strobe Talbott’s State Department chief of staff for several years. She became Vice President Dick Cheney’s adviser in the Iraq War, served for four years as NATO ambassador, before becoming State Department spokesperson for Hillary Clinton and, eventually, Assistant Secretary for Europeans and Eurasian Affairs. It was Nuland who, while passing out cookies to demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square, was taped by Russian operatives declaiming to the American ambassador “F- the EU's” wishes with respect to the resolution of the crisis. Today she is chief executive of the Center for a New American Security.

Will Trump figure in the future of this narrative?  Not much, as long as he isn’t re-elected to a second term. With respect to the future of NATO, there is no alternative to waiting to see how his presidency turns out – and re-examining the history of U.S.-Russia relationswhile we do. Sonorous stories about the Berlin blockade, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union are no substitute for well-informed debate about the second NATO.

David Warsh, a longtime columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of, where this first ran. He's based in Somerville, Mass.


Rejoice in the river

  Mist upstream of the Bissell Bridge over the Connecticut between Windsor and South Windsor, Conn .

Mist upstream of the Bissell Bridge over the Connecticut between Windsor and South Windsor, Conn.

"{If} the river is as varied and beautiful as the Connecticut, you can merely look at -- in the long light of a sultry summer evening, under an angry winter sky, in the high color of autumn or the pastel shades of spring -- and derive that sense of peace and uplift of the spirit that most men find in living water.''

-- The late Roger Tory Peterson, Connecticut-based naturalistornithologist, artist and educator, whose work is considered one of the founding inspirations for the 20th-Century environmental movement.

This quote is from The Connecticut River, by Evan Hill (1972)