Llewellyn King: The ugly thinking behind the Trump budget

 

On the face of it, President Trump's $4.1 trillion budget for 2018 is risible. Its math doesn’t add up; it assumes an unlikely growth rate, starting in 2021, of 3 percent a year through 2027; and it avoids calculating the tax cut, which has been promised as the largest in history.

It lays siege to research from medicine to high energy physics – future invention is none of the government's business. It takes calculated aim against environmental science. It also takes an axe to the State Department and American diplomacy, which has been vital to our national interest since the founding of the republic.

But it really warms to its perfidy when it comes to Medicaid and other programs for the poor. It says what some people have whispered for years: The poor are poor because they don’t work, and the sick have charities and emergency rooms.

It is policy based on hearsay, on the reprehensible arguments of the country club soiree and on the folk wisdom of talk radio.

At one level, the budget is an abrogation of responsibility as it says to Congress, “You make this work.” At another, it is a look into the dark hearts of some of those around the president. You have to partially exempt Trump because pulling together the budget is not his kind of thing: He wasn't slaving over the numbers, debating the importance of medical research or the global need for diplomacy. That was done by his surrogates, those who hate what they call the “deep state,” but that might also be called governance.

Broad strokes are Trump’s thing and having authorized them, eager hands have molded what passes for a budget but is in fact a guide to the narrow and deeply prejudiced thinking of the men and women who work in the White House and Mick Mulvaney, the budget director and former congressman from South Carolina.

It is not so much a budget as it is a view into the hearts and minds of the most extreme wing of the conservative persuasion, circa 2017. It is a revelation of ignorance, prejudice and indifference to the humane needs of the United States.

It is the lifting of a caprice that has contained their worst instincts for a long time. Now the hard edge, the granite heart, the cold-steel shoulder to sickness, poverty, incapacity and the resources that might abate their attendant suffering is on full view.

If you don’t see it in the budget, look to the Justice Department and to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who is all silvery charm on the outside and whose heartlessness can only be measured degrees below zero. For the first time in a long time, Congress was moving toward meaningful reform of the justice system with an end to mandatory and hideously long sentences. The Sessions view: Better to lock them up and throw away the key – and all the better if you put them in for-profit prisons.

Criminologists hate mandatory sentences, and most congressmen know them to be perverse and to result in punishment which is both cruel and unusual. It frustrates judges. The judges and prosecutors are denied the right to use their wisdom in the sentencing, instead substituting the wisdom of Congress and the attorney general.

The same harshness permeates the Department of Homeland Security with the vicious implementation of deportations of family members who are living good, productive lives in America. No thought is being given to any solution to the illegal-immigration problem, at heart a human problem not a national security or a criminal one. There are other ways short of deportation to recognize both the illegality of the immigrants and to give them the American life they have so desired. A renewable work permit, for example, not citizenship or the heavy knock of the state on the door – dreaded down through all of history.

This is a budget which is not only dangerous but also explicitly callous. It reveals a black heart, a locked mind, and an indifference to U.S. needs in years to come. It will be amended in Congress, but its message will linger. It is an ugly message.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@gmail.com.  This was written first for Inside Sources.

 

Trying to figure out a new stadium's opportunity cost to the taxpayers

 

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

’Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others.’’

-- Economist John Maynard Keynes

The latest proposal by the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new baseball stadium in that city is considerably better than previous ones. Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor who has frequently denounced taxpayer subsidies for stadiums, called the proposal “like a pretty good deal,”  reported The Boston Globe. But, he added, he wanted more details before deciding whether to endorse it.

“To have that level of private participation is certainly above the norm in Triple-A baseball,” Mr. Zimbalist told the paper.

But there are very big questions. One of the biggest, to me, is the most difficult to answer: How popular will baseball  - and Minor League Baseball at that -- be over the decades of this public-private deal? Will changing demographics make the sport less popular (and soccer more so) in our region? If so, will the PawSox owners face what many big-store retailers face: the sort of existential change in consumer patterns that could lead to few if any stores in, for instance, Providence Place within a few years.  (Luckily, Providence Place is much more architecturally attractive and interesting than most malls and could work well for such functions as college classrooms and assembly halls, libraries and medical clinics.)

The state would have to pay about $43 million, the city about $29 million and the PawSox organization about $86 million in an overall cost of $158 million in bond principal andinterest over the 30-year deal.

What’s the opportunity cost of the total $72  million that taxpayers would cover? Would such an investment be better spent on fixing up transportation infrastructure and/or schools and/or parks, etc., etc.? Or on a baseball stadium to be used from April to October?

It would be very useful at this point if the public could be provided with rigorous, plausible projections of what the market for Minor League Baseball games could be over the next few decades of taxpayer exposure. But perhaps that’s impossible.

In any case, we need a rigorous independent study on the frequency of  possible nonbaseball uses of the proposed stadium to help pay for the project, especially given  the limitations imposed by that annual cool snap called “New England winter’’.

As for self-interested projections by Pawtucket (which, like the PawSox, is salivating for this project) and the team on the sales- and income-tax revenues that might be generated by the new stadium: Most such projections turn out wildly wrong. There are just too many variables. The late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s remark about politics increasingly applies to business, too: “A week is an eternity in politics.’’

Another point that I assume that the PawSox, the city and the state have  carefully considered: The Pawtucket exits on Route 95 are heavily used by people leaving or entering Providence’s East Side. What sort of plans are being made to handle the traffic on game days? At the same time, the new stadium could be a boon for restaurants in Pawtucket, Central Falls and northern Hope Street on the East Side.

My guess is that the Rhode Island legislature will pass and Governor Raimondo will sign a bill close to the latest proposal. They had better get as much solid information on it ASAP, especially given the high possibility that there will be a national recession starting this year or next, with plunging tax revenues. This will be a big, scary bet.

Back in the recession of the early ‘90s, Gov. Bruce Sundlun bravely pushed through major and expensive improvements at T.F. Green Airport in the face of much opposition. It turned out to be a very good bet for the state’s economy. But transportation infrastructure is essential. A baseball stadium ain’t, as much as I love the PawSox.

Whatever, deciding to have the taxpayers help pay for a baseball stadium for a private company in the end may be based more on romance than on economic rationality. But then, that’s true of many public-policy decisions.

Watergate weeks and glorious expense accounts

The Watergate complex in Washington, scene of the break-in that led to the downfall of President Nixon.

The Watergate complex in Washington, scene of the break-in that led to the downfall of President Nixon.

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

Lots of people are trying to draw similarities between Watergate and the Trump mess. There are some, but we should bear in mind the big differences between Trump and Richard Nixon, whom I’m more than old enough to remember “professionally’’.

I had a seat in the journalistic third balcony during Watergate, copy-editing the occasional story about the developing scandal and from time to time writing short items about it when I filled in as the writer of The Wall Street Journal’s World-Wide column on page one. I did this in New York, and then filled in at the WSJ’s Washington bureau shortly after Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974 to avoid an impeachment trial.

I’ll never forgetcoming upon the block print “Nixon Resigns’’ headline in The New York Times’s Aug. 9 edition at the newsstand at my steamy Brooklyn Heights subway stop. I still associate hot weather with Watergate since so much of the biggest developments came in summer or late spring.

(Ah, those were the salad days of journalism, including expense accounts. I was told to fly first class, and on my Washington gig, stayed in a suite in the oh-so-fancy Hay Adams Hotel.)

Nixon, like Trump, was often paranoid, but Nixon wasn’t a narcissist, of which Trump is an extreme example. And Nixon, who was very well read, had an idealistic streak that resulted in some thoughtful domestic policies and international initiatives. 

Finally, he had a far more intelligent and experienced staff than Trump’s, including, of course, some who got caught up in Watergate. Many of Trump’s, on the other hand, tend to mirror his amorality and ignorance.

One of Nixon’s key assistants, especially for domestic policy, was John Ehrlichman. When Mr.  Ehrlichman was asked, years after Watergate, what he thought of Nixon, who had basically hung him out to dry, he responded coolly:

 “Every man is a mix.’’  Indeed, including Trump, I suppose.

How will the expanding Trump scandal play out? Impeachment is wrenching and much of the GOP in Congress will be very loathe to take one of their own, as much as they’d prefer the very right wing  but apparently sane and stable Mike Pence. More likely is a semi-paralyzed administration that staggers along through Republican losses in next year’s congressional elections and finishes its term with few achievements. That President Trump will continue to have control over the U.S. national-security apparatus is scary.

Bold new territory for 'the pulps'

"19 Kimball'' (mixed media on wood panel) by Sam Earle, in his show "Pulp,'' at Adelson Galleries, Boston, June 2-July 30.

"19 Kimball'' (mixed media on wood panel) by Sam Earle, in his show "Pulp,'' at Adelson Galleries, Boston, June 2-July 30.

 

The gallery notes say, among other things:
 

"The word 'pulp' is commonly used to describe a reduction of fruit or wood into a puree; however, it was commonly used at the beginning of the 20th Century as a word to describe popular or sensational writing.  Between 1896 and the 1950s, 'the pulps'  or 'pulp fiction' magazines, which were printed on cheap wood pulp paper, became all the rage.  The genre ranged from fantasy to humor to horror and occult, and the garish subject matter of the literature reflected the low-quality paper on which it was printed.
 
''In keeping with the tradition of pulp fiction, Sam Earle’s newest series is edgy and fearless.  In his distinctive style – layering imagery over images over image, Earle contorts the compositions of his small (7x5 inch) panels to redefine 'pulp' in the 21st Century.  ...{H}e adheres hand-painted images face down to the surface of the wood panel.  Once the acrylic dries on the panel, he dampens the back of the prints and gently wipes away the paper – turning it into pulp, and revealing a mirror image of the original pigment.
 
''The artist’s new series is in keeping with his oeuvre, which has become known for the obsessive utilization of found symbols or images from pop culture.  The 'Pulp' series ventures into a bold new territory – emoting risqué pictures into phantasmagorical narratives.  Earle’s intimate works depict brooding and sensory, sometimes erotic subjects.  The imagery is found and repurposed – often overlaid with text, paying homage to 'the pulps' of the early 20th Century.  The condensed saturation of figures forces the viewer to read the complete composition closely and far away, top to bottom or vice versa, then re-read it.  The more time one spends reading Earle’s pulps, the more is revealed underneath each layer.''

 

Spring under the elms

American elm.

American elm.

"Spring has many American faces. There are cities where it will come and go in a day and counties where it hangs around and never quite gets there. Summer is drawn blinds in Louisiana, long winds in Wyoming, shade of elms and maples in New England.''

-- Archibald MacLeish (poet, Librarian of Congress,  essayist, speechwriter, professor and chronicler of "The Lost Generation.'' He spent most of his later years in western Massachusetts.
 

Editor's note: There aren't many elms left in southern New England because of Dutch elm disease.

Chuck Collins: Best wishes to the most indebted class

 

Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many Baby Boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multimillion-dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes big estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall meeting that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

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

Why sea-level rise is highest here

Surface temperatures in the western North Atlantic. The North American landmass is black and dark blue (cold), while the Gulf Stream is red (warm). Source: NASA

Surface temperatures in the western North Atlantic. The North American landmass is black and dark blue (cold), while the Gulf Stream is red (warm). Source: NASA

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Why is the Northeast experiencing higher levels of sea-level rise than other parts of the wold? Area scientists attribute it to two factors: a slowdown in the Gulf Stream and the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.

The slowdown of the Gulf Stream is complicated, and conclusions for the cause have varied. The consensus cause is the warming of the North Atlantic. What is still being debated is the effect of the influx of fresh water. Nevertheless, the warming water is creating a “traffic-jam scenario” in ocean circulation. The slowdown causes offshore sea levels, which are higher than coastal sea levels, to flatten and send water inland to regions such as the Northeast.

“Picture a banked turn in a racetrack,” said Bryan Oakley, assistant professor of environmental geoscience at Eastern Connecticut State University. “As the circulation slows, this causes the slope to decrease, and as the water level goes down along the Gulf Stream, the water level will rise along the coast — two ends of a seesaw, so to speak.”

Melting ice is also pushing water our way. As ice sheets in Greenland liquefy, they lose their gravitational pull and, therefore, ocean water that was drawn to the icy masses instead flows into the southern hemisphere. The same phenomenon is happening as the Antarctic losses ice, this time the water is redirected toward the Northeast.

There is yet another cause of higher regional waters. John King, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s School of Oceanography, said warming water in the North Atlantic may halt or slow the natural cool-water vacuum that draws warmer coastal water out to sea.

All of these factors have led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to project a maximum sea-level rise of 11.5 feet by 2100.

“Currently, about 6 million Americans live within about six feet of the sea level, and they are potentially vulnerable to permanent flooding in this century,” said Robert E. Kopp, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, who co-authored the recent NOAA report. “Considering possible levels of sea-level rise and their consequences is crucial to risk management.”

Those consequences to natural habitats include increased beach and marsh erosion.

In Rhode Island, there are about 7,000 people living within the 7-foot sea level-rise inundation zone, according to a Statewide Planning report.

Llewellyn King's journal: From WBZ to WGBH; applaud this furniture; broken infrastructure is a tax

Joe Mathieu -- CBS photo

Joe Mathieu

-- CBS photo

 

Joe Mathieu, who for the past six years has been a drive-time news anchor, from 5 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., on WBZ NewsRadio 1030, serving Greater Boston, is moving to WGBH's Morning Edition, as the anchor. He's succeeding Bob Seay, who will concentrate, according to the NPR station, on enterprise reporting. Probably on sleeping in as well. Drive-time hours are brutal.

 I’m delighted. I met Joe when he was putting together the very successful POTUS '08 channel on SiriusXM Radio. While the channel was supposed to run just for the length of the 2008 presidential campaign, it was so popular that it was made permanent.

Originally, the channel took its title from POTUS, an abbreviation for President of the United States (first used in the late 1800s in telegraphic communications). It dropped the year in its title and defined POTUS as “Politics of the United States.”

I'm glad not only to be a regular commentator on POTUS, Channel 124, but also that it airs the audio from my PBS program, White House Chronicle, four times on weekends.

My presence there is all due to the days when Joe was the impresario of the channel. I'm indebted to him.

But despite the national reach of his Washington commitments, Joe yearned for his native Boston. He told me he began his career in broadcasting at 14 years old. He graduated from Emerson College, renowned for its arts and communications programs.

I’m glad of the new assignment, not because WBZ is anything but an excellent public service in Boston, but because the new venue will provide more room for Joe’s extraordinary talents as a broadcaster, a political analyst and, his special mastery, as an interviewer.

On the downside, Joe won’t get any more sleep: his WGBH anchor slot, beginning in August, starts at 5 a.m. As a longtime newspaperman and broadcaster, I can tell you about those hours: They’re tough.

Applause for a Table and Its Donors – the Show, too

Centerpiece of The Dining Room, by A.J. Gurney. -- Photo by Linda Gasparello

Centerpiece of The Dining Room, by A.J. Gurney.

-- Photo by Linda Gasparello

The Arctic Playhouse, the little not-for-profit theater on the main street of Arctic Village, in West Warwick, R.I., has a table for you.

Well, it is raffling a magnificent dining-room table, matching upholstered chairs, a sideboard and a hutch. Cardi’s, the furniture chain, donated the table to the theater. It is the centerpiece of the set for the theater’s current, lively production of A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room.

The dining-room set is worth $3,500, and the raffle winner will be chosen after the play's run. One of the table's leaves will be signed by the cast and the three Cardi brothers. Instant provenance for a serious set of dining-room furniture.

Raffle tickets are just $10 for one ticket, or $25 for three. Tickets can be bought online or in person at the theater until June 3.

Amtrak Is an Exemplar of Infrastructure Woes

Amtrak, so important to New England and the operator of the only bit of  rail passenger service between Boston and Washington, D.C.,  that looks something like a train service should, is having problems at New York's Penn Station. It is not the awful, crowded concourse at the station, but the awful, crowded rails that passengers don’t see.

Commuter trains have derailed and fixes are going to have to be made with equivalent disruptions this summer. There is even a scheme to reroute the New England trains through Grand Central for the duration.

When will we get the message that infrastructure starved of funding and preventive maintenance fails? Looks like the Trump budget will make matters worse. Broken infrastructure is a tax in its own way. Very taxing.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, a frequent contributor to New England Diary and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant.

 

Dept. of Over-Regulation

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

Rhode Island state Rep. Dennis Canario has filed a bill to punish drivers for going too slowly on roads’ left-hand “passing lanes.’’ 

But that isn't the problem. The problem is more cars speeding in right-hand lanes, failing to signal and haphazardly swerving diagonally back and forth across lanes. Sadly, you see even police cars engaging in these unsafe actions fairly frequently.

Mr. Canario’s proposal would encourage speeding, which is already epidemic these days; it often seems as if the police have mostly given up trying to enforce speed limits. This has become even more dangerous because of the texting-while-driving epidemic, which is fast raising the highway fatality and injury rate and increasing the cost of insurance coverage. And add a thick layer of stoned drivers as marijuana use becomes far more common, driven by pot entrepreneurs and states’ thirst for marijuana-tax revenues.

Russ Rader, senior vice president for communications of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told The Providence Journal that, as The Journal paraphrased him, “there have been no major studies that show drivers going slower in the left lane leads to crashes or any other problems….{but} there is significant proof that increasing speed limits can lead to more crashes and fatalities.’’

The main effect of drivers going relatively slowly (meaning more often than not, driving at the speed limit) in left-hand lanes is anger and frustration among impatient drivers, which probably means most drivers. Deal with it! Take a bus or a train or a bike!

We need fewer, but better enforced, laws and regulations. Take Representative Canario’s bill off the road, please.

William Morgan: Albert Quigley -- a king of Monadnock Region's culture

The Cheshire County Historical Society, based in Keene, N.H., has mounted an exhibition on the Monadnock Region painter Albert Quigley (1891-1961); it runs through early September. The show includes 45 of the artist's paintings – landscape and portraits, mounted in frames that he made. Additional material on Quigley's fascinating yet little-known story, his creative contemporaries, his frame- and violin-making, and his role in the musical life of contra dancing in southwestern New Hampshire complete the comprehensive 182-page catalogue, beautifully produced by Bauhan Publishing, of Peterborough.

Quigley exhibition at Cheshire County Historical Society --  Photo by William Morgan

Quigley exhibition at Cheshire County Historical Society

--  Photo by William Morgan

 

Unlike most of the famous members of the famous art colonies in nearby Dublin and Cornish,  N.H., Quigley was self-taught and was never able to devote himself entirely to his art. Born in Frankfort, Maine, he joined his father as a stonecutter in a quarry there. After service in France during World War I, Quigley settled in Keene; married and later moved to a small house in the nearby village of Nelson, where he helped raise three children; worked in the Cheshire Mill, in Harrisville, and also cobbled together a living as a mural painter, greeting-card designer and frame maker. His best client was Dublin painter Alexander James; they often worked together and Quigley's quiet landscapes and no-nonsense portraits show Mr. James’s influence.

 

Mount Monadnock

Mount Monadnock

 

One of the pieces of writing in the catalogue is a tribute to Quigley by his long-time neighbor, the poet May Sarton. At Quigley's funeral, the minister read Sarton's tribute in honor of her great friend. One verse reads:

            "Lately, he lay downstairs, a dying king,

            His violin at the end of his bed like a couchant beast

            In some old tapestry or heraldic painting,

            The battered orange cat blinking by the fire.

            The fat asthmatic dog snoring beside him–

            Family, neighbors gathered there all day''

 

Providence-based architectural historian William Morgan is the author of the book about the cultural legacy of Dublin, N.H., cultural legacy, titled Monadnock Summer.

"House in Sullivan, New Hampshire, Looking Toward Sugar Hill.''

"House in Sullivan, New Hampshire, Looking Toward Sugar Hill.''

Gas pipeline arouses opposition in the Berkshires

By MIRANDA WILLSON, for ecoRI News (ecori.org)

Compared to high-profile pipeline projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, the proposed Connecticut Expansion Project seems relatively innocuous at first glance, only spanning 13.4 miles in three distinct locations in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

But the 3.8-mile stretch of pipeline proposed in Berkshire County, Mass., has been met with resistance from environmental activists, local and state officials, state agencies, a Native American organization and residents of Sandisfield, the town of 915 through which the pipeline would run.

Criticisms of the project include: its passing through Otis State Forest; the environmental impacts of the natural gas it would transport; a perceived lack of market need for that gas; the damaging of ceremonial stones along the route of the pipeline sacred to an Indian tribe; the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) approved the project.

As a result of multiple legal challenges, the project is more than a year behind schedule. But as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. (TGP), the subsidiary of Kinder Morgan that is developing the project, finished clearing the 30 affected acres of Otis State Forest last week, the likelihood of stopping or significantly delaying the pipeline’s construction is decreasing.

Otis State Forest had been conserved under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution for decades, until Kinder Morgan sued the state in March 2016 for a 2-mile easement through the forest. Two months later, Berkshire County Superior Court ruled in favor of Kinder Morgan, arguing that the Natural Gas Act of 1938, which permits eminent domain powers to interstate pipeline companies, overruled the Massachusetts Constitution.

One activist coalition in opposition to the pipeline, Sugar Shack Alliance, protested in the forest in late April and early May of 2016 in the hopes of preventing TGP from felling trees. At least 24 members of the coalition have been arrested for attempting to block construction and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Their charges were recently reduced to civil citations, according to Abby Ferla, a spokeswoman for the Sugar Shack Alliance.

Ferla said that though the group was unable to save the affected forestland, its members will continue to fight the project.

“We’re looking at a stage in our resistance where we’re shifting away from trying to protect the forest, because that ship has sailed, and refocusing our energies on keeping this pipeline out of the ground,” she said.

Ferla noted that the Sugar Shack Alliance aims to resist all new investments in fossil fuels because of the threat of climate change and what the group characterizes as negative environmental health and justice issues associated with fossil fuels.

Another organization, No Fracked Gas in Mass!, opposes the pipeline project for similar reasons. Co-founder Rosemary Wessel questioned the market need for the gas, likely being obtained via hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that the pipeline will transport to customers in Connecticut.

“This [pipeline] was based on an old projection of an increase in gas use that never manifested,” Wessel said. “As far as Connecticut goes, there hasn’t been an increased use in gas; it’s actually stalled. ... So why bring all of this destruction to the environment and put people’s lives at risk?”

FERC’s March 11, 2016 Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, however, asserts that the need for the gas for Connecticut customers is evident and that No Fracked Gas in Mass! and another opposition group, Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network (MassPLAN), cited studies that “do not support the commenters’ arguments.”

Another issue brought up by project opponents is FERC’s approval process. According to Katy Eiseman, director of MassPLAN, a group of Sandisfield residents requested a rehearing of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity shortly after it was issued. In response, FERC issued a tolling order to give itself more time to decide on the request.

“The effect of [the tolling order] is that because there’s not a final decision from the agency, the petitioners or landowners are not able to go to court, so they’re just stuck in this bureaucratic, regulatory limbo,” Eiseman said. “This is a common practice; FERC just doesn’t do anything.”

Sandisfield resident Jean Atwater-Williams also complained of the commission’s tolling order. Atwater-Williams is one of several Sandisfield homeowners whose property is being acquired by TGP, as part of the pipeline route in Massachusetts goes through private land.

Atwater-Williams said FERC told her that it couldn’t grant a rehearing request because it has lacked a quorum since Feb. 3, 2017, when commissioner Norman Bay stepped down. She and others, however, note that FERC nevertheless issued a “notice to proceed” with the project on April 12, despite three of its five commissioner positions were vacant.

Mary O’Driscoll, FERC’s director of media relations, said the commission’s issuing of the tolling order was done so that it could have more time to consider the landowners’ request, and that it ultimately chose not to grant the rehearing. She also noted that FERC didn’t approve the project without a quorum, but only issued a notice to proceed, and that the commission has granted some authority to other staff members due to its lack of a quorum, which she said is within its right.

But three prominent Massachusetts politicians have criticized FERC’s issuing of the notice to proceed. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey co-signed an April 19 letter to FERC asking the commission to revoke the notice because of its lack of a quorum. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., whose district includes Sandisfield, wrote a similar letter to FERC on April 25.

Another legal player in the opposition camp, the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO), also issued FERC a request for a rehearing on the notice to proceed. Anne Marie Garti, an attorney for NITHPO, said the tribe is opposed to the project because it impacts ceremonial stone landscapes that are sacred.

She said that because FERC issued a certificate to TGP before the company had completed an archeological survey of the site, FERC violated Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies to “take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties” and obtain public input before approving of a project.

Though TGP has insisted that it consulted with the tribe and that it will return all affected ceremonial stones after the pipeline is constructed, Garti said removing the stones destroys their religious and cultural significance.

NITHPO is currently awaiting a response from FERC on its request for a rehearing and on other papers it has filed.

TGP has asked FERC to address the claims and motions of NITHPO and MassPLAN, which the company characterized as exaggerated and unfounded. Representatives from Kinder Morgan and TGP declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, MassPLAN is shifting its efforts to lobby the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that TGP complies with water quality and other environmental regulations.

Atwater-Williams said Sandisfield residents are unsure what, if anything, they will do next.

“At this point, we’re considering our legal options, but there aren’t many avenues left for us,” she said.

As the pipeline is expected to be in service by Nov. 1, Atwater-Williams worries about potential impacts it could have on her property, which is 270 feet from the pipeline, and on area wildlife. Though she and her husband were compensated for the portions of their property that the company acquired, she feels it’s not enough to make up for the permanent damage it has caused.

“My husband [always says], ‘I would pay them to go away,’” Atwater-Williams said. “We didn’t want the money and we didn’t need the money. We wanted to be left alone.”

Woodland water cycle

''The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods -
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday. ''

From "Spring Pools,'' by Robert Frost

Proustian painting

"Not Enough Walking'' (oil on canvas) by James Kinny, in his show "Roil & Hush,''  at Matter & Light Fine Art,  Boston, through June 30.  

"Not Enough Walking'' (oil on canvas) by James Kinny, in his show "Roil & Hush,''  at Matter & Light Fine Art,  Boston, through June 30.
 

The gallery comments:

"The thick, rich and matted surface of Kinny's art serves as a visual journal; through sensitive handling of color and texture. Kinny maps out and explores the canvas through thought and emotion, building over time into a subtle, varied and vast landscape of human experience. When someone views a piece of art that strikes a chord within them, they in turn will have added their own thoughts and emotions to the overall interpretation of Kinny's art.

"'Sometimes a piece can either take up to six months or ten years--there are parts of the canvas completely covered and other times one spot of the canvas hasn't been touched," Kinny said while describing his methods; he wants the viewer to ... be able to see how he approaches the canvas. One way this can be done is that the viewer examines how they relate to each painting. These layers of oil are representing a memory, either an argument or tender moment.''

David Warsh: A 'Red Diaper Baby's' clear-eyed reportage of Russia

Fred Weir, of The Christian Science Monitor, has long seemed to me the most dependable and best-informed North American correspondent in Moscow. His reporting stood out on the agglomeration site Johnson’s Russia List, even before David Johnson offered a collection of 50 of Weir’s dispatches, 1999-2016, as a subscription premium. 

Last week provided a striking example. The occasion was a Vladimir Putin press conference in Sochi, where the Italian prime minister was visiting.

The New York Times headlined:

“Putin Butts In To Claim There Were No Secrets And Says He’ll Prove it’’

“By Andrew Higgins

“MOSCOW – Asserting himself abroad with his customary disruptive panache, President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday jumped into the furor over President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats, declaring that nothing secret had been revealed and that he could prove it.

“Mr. Putin, who has a long record of seizing on foreign crises to make Russia’s voice heard, announced during a news conference in Sochi, Russia, the Black Sea resort that has become his equivalent of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, that he has a “record” of the American president’s meeting at the White House with two senior Russian officials and was ready to give it to Congress — so long as Mr. Trump does not object.’’

In contrast, the Monitor’s account tells a substantially different story:

“As controversy swirls around Trump, Russia watches helplessly’’

“Many in Russia had hoped that the new president could help smooth relations between Moscow and Washington. But as Russia-tied scandals paralyze Trump’s administration, now the Kremlin just want US-Russia diplomacy not to get worse’’

“By Fred Weir

“MOSCOW —When Russian President Vladimir Putin offered on Wednesday to provide Congress with a transcript of his foreign minister’s controversial meeting last week with President Trump in the Oval Office, it was not warmly received by US politicians.

“But debating the legitimacy of the offer – nominally to prove that no classified information changed hands – may be missing the point, Russian foreign-policy experts say.

“Rather, its greater significance may be as a sign of just how alarmed Mr. Putin and the Kremlin are becoming about what’s happening in Washington.

“Kremlin watchers say they feel like helpless observers amid the firestorm of the Russia-related scandals engulfing the Trump administration. While the Kremlin tries to advance what Russian observers say are sincere efforts to establish normal dialogue with a new US president, it is taken in Washington to be further evidence of political collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.’’

There was no snappy language in Weir’s story, no sly equation of Sochi with Mar-a-Lago, no dwelling on Putin’s insulting diagnosis of the Washington outcry (“Either they don’t understand the damage they’re doing to their own country, in which case they are simply stupid, or they understand everything, in which case they are dangerous and corrupt”).

Instead, Weir reminded readers of the context of the discussion – a Russian airliner lost to an ISIS bomb over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in November 2015. He quoted at length several Russian sources on their general perplexity at American developments, including Fyodor Lukyanov, a senior Russian foreign-policy analyst:

“We are very confused and even a bit terrified by what we see unfolding in Washington. The name of Russia keeps coming up, but we don’t feel like we have anything to do with this. This level of paranoia is beyond rational, and the only way we can make sense of it is that there is an attempt by political forces to play the Russia card as a weapon to destroy Trump.  It’s not that we especially want to save Trump, but the growing fear is that any chance of improved US-Russia relations will be vaporized in this war against him.’’

A Canadian citizen, Weir moved to Moscow in 1986 as a correspondent for the Canadian Tribune, a now-defunct weekly newspaper published by Canada’s Communist Party. He was a third-generation “red diaper baby,” nephew of an influential Comintern agent, a member of the party himself. He had studied Russia as a graduate student but had not contemplated living in the Soviet Union. Now Gorbachev had come to power, the first general secretary born after the 1917 revolution. Weir wanted to see the situation close up.

He traveled widely in the late Eighties for the Tribune, as the Soviet empire began to come apart. He wrote a book on Gorbachev’s reforms, conducted two cross- country tours of Canada as well, promoting his work and sampling opinion He witnessed the optimism of perestroika, the enthusiasm for open elections, the surfacing of ancient ethnic hatreds, as the Soviet regime loosened its grip.

 By the Nineties, the economy was falling apart, all but the “cooperatives,” the private firms Gorbachev had permitted to be formed.  Weir’s friends, members of the educated elite, had begun complaining of “the theater of democracy.”

In an autobiographical account that he wrote in 2009 (“A Red Diaper baby in Russia witnesses the Rise of Vladimir Putin,” unfortunately no longer online), Weir wrote,

“Sometime in the spring of 1991, I realized how far they had taken this.  I was invited to a garden party at the country home, of Andrei Brezhnev, nephew of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in Zhukovna, an elite dacha settlement outside of Moscow. One of the guests, whom I had known for years as a functionary of the Komsomol (the Young Communist League) rolled up in a shiny white Volvo and told me he was now president of an export-import firm. Another, whom I’d often dealt with as an official of the Tribune’s fraternal newspaper, the Soviet Communist Party organ Pravda, boasted that he’d just been hired at a private bank. A third, even more surprising because he was the son of renowned Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, leaned over the table and handed me a card that announced him as an “international business consultant.”

 

Over the next few years after that gathering], Weir worked on a book with David Kotz, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,  Revolution from Above: The Demise of the Soviet System and the New Russia (Routledge 1997), was revised and reissued in 2007 as Russia’s Path from Gorbachev to Putin.  The authors’ thesis – that the Soviet system had been overthrown by its own ruling elite – was novel and controversial when first proposed, but has come to be more widely accepted for having been borne out by events. Kotz’s own book about the United States, The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard, 2015) has fared less well, though perhaps it is too soon to tell. (“The analysis offered in this book suggests that capitalism is not only in a period of structural crisis at this time but in a structural crisis that has no easy path to desirable resolution.  This historical turning point may indeed be a turning point for humanity.”)

Instead of morphing into a businessman like his friends, Weir became a mainstream journalist. He pieced together a living writing for the Hindustan Times; The Independent, of London; South China Morning Post; and, since 1998, as the Monitor’s correspondent.   (The venerable Boston-based daily discontinued its print editions in 2008, but maintains a string of excellent correspondents around the world for its digital operations;  its Moscow correspondents over the years — Edmund Stevens, Charlotte Saikowski, Ned Temko, and Paul Quinn-Judge — have been especially admired.)

Married, with two children, Weir lives in a small village near Moscow. He is a latter-day John Reed who has lived to tell the story.  To read through his Monitor clips over the years is to glimpse the present day in the making.

It seems clear, not just from Weir’s reporting, that the Russian president doesn’t understand the situation that has developed in the United States.  Nor have Putin and his counselors taken public account of their own part in making matters worse, by encouraging hacking of e-mail and servers during the campaign.

 It’s true that Democrats are using Trump’s longstanding and extensive conflicts of interest in Russia to attack the American president. Yet there were legitimate questions about various relationships during the campaign that led to the appointment last week of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the Department of Justice investigation.

The fracas has to do mainly with Trump’s unsuitability to the job he sought and won – the dog who chased and  caught the car. As Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote yesterday, in the Financial Times, “The US president violates democratic norms and expectations around presidential conduct. And with each fresh outrage, the American system’s ultimate political sanction [impeachment] becomes more thinkable.” Trump has no powerful friends in Washington – only allies whose loyalty is tested with each new gaffe. It will take time, but, as of this week, a Pence administration seems almost inevitable.

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

 

 

Maine has a people deficit

-- Photo by Bob Walker Entrance to the "100-Mile Wilderness'' in Maine.

-- Photo by Bob Walker

Entrance to the "100-Mile Wilderness'' in Maine.

"I think Maine needs people. It needs diversity. It needs to be able to respect people. Openness is crucial for this state because we don't want to be known for having the oldest state in the nation. We want young families.''

-- John Baldacci, former Maine governor
 

Safe from the summer people?

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

Avangrid Renewables,  a U.S. unit of the Spanish company Iberdrola Group, and Vineyard Wind have formed a partnership to jointly develop a large wind-energy project about 15 milessouth of Martha’s Vineyard. Avangrid is acquiring a 50 percent ownership interest in Vineyard Wind, an offshore wind-energy developer that’s part of the Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners portfolio.

The sea south of New England has some of the most reliable offshore wind in the world.

The project follows last summer’s enactment of a Massachusetts law requiring utilities to obtain 1,600 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind energy within the next decade. The 1,600 MW would mean homegrown energy to power the equivalent of more than 750,000 Massachusetts homes (with a total of over 2 million people) every year.

Three companies to date have acquired lease rights to build projects off the coast, including Vineyard Wind.

Vineyard Wind plans to begin building its project in early 2020.

It’s possible that renewable energy could provide southern New England with all its electricity needs within a couple of decades, in a huge boon for its economy and environment.

The area eyed for development is presumably far enough offshore to avoid the sort of opposition by rich summer people that blocked the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound. However, siting it so far offshore will also make it cost a lot more than Cape Wind would have cost.

Chris Powell: How about shrinking UConn's imperial president?

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy says negotiations over the state budget, which began last week, have a long way to go, but after wobbling on taxes he has accomplished something remarkable. He has pushed his party's majority in the General Assembly, the Democrats, to agree that state government's financial collapse must be fixed mainly by cutting spending, and has induced the Republican minority, which is just a few votes short of displacing the Democrats, to propose cutting spending even more and to get specific about some spending cuts.

It's amazing what a Democratic governor can accomplish when, forswearing re-election, he no longer must play the tool of the special interests that run the party, the state employee and teacher unions, and can pursue the public interest instead. Of course the unions, working through Democratic legislators, will try to induce the governor to go wobbly on taxes again.

After all, government in Connecticut long has been less a mechanism of public service than of financing the Democratic Party, keeping the party's most active members on the government payroll. This makes ironic the Republican opposition to the Citizens' Election Program, which makes all election campaigns, not just campaigns supported by government employee unions, eligible for government funding. Now that Connecticut's financial collapse has become shocking -- the budget deficit exploding, businesses and residents leaving for lower-taxed states, bond ratings being downgraded -- even the public is awakening to the danger.

As the Russian revolutionaries used to say, "The worse, the better." That's because so much is wrong about the premises of public policy in Connecticut that only collapse can force elected officials to make the necessary changes, which are far more profound than transitory spending reductions. The big money is in getting rid of those mistaken policies themselves.

Cutting spending while leaving those policies in place only guarantees that the money will be spent mistakenly again someday. In their negotiations the governor and legislative leaders are looking at the budget largely as a matter of line items. More importantly they should be asking: What is the cost of forfeiting the public's authority over government employment through collective bargaining and binding arbitration of contracts? What is the cost of social promotion in public schools and colleges? What is the cost of welfare subsidies for childbearing outside marriage and the cycle of poverty they cause?

Those costs are surely in the billions every year. As negligent as state government's labor management is, with discipline and dismissal of state employees being nearly impossible and the gold-plating of their fringe benefits, the danger here is that state employees will be scapegoated when so much else in government is wrong. The Hartford Courant's Dan Haar notes that the governor's objective of $700 million per year in union concessions amounts to $30,000 per employee. The Republican budget seeks far more in concessions.

That just evades other needed changes. While there is a lot of room to cut with state employees -- just canceling their six gratuitous paid holidays, like Columbus Day,, would save about $40 million a year -- for the average state employee $30,000 in savings would be impractical and unfair. So why is no one talking about University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst's $900,000 in annual salary and benefits, which doesn't count her two university mansions? Especially in higher education, state government is full of similarly overpaid executives.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Back to our origins

"Tidal Pool'' (oil), by Elli Crocker, in her show "Knotted Earth,'' at Gallery 53, Gloucester, Mass., May 25-June 13.

 "The knot as an image is both common and sacred ­- these patterns of line without beginning or end signify the interconnectedness of everything and a sense of timelessness. The knot binds and entangles, secures and ensnares. We humans are bound to the earth and all the things of it, to our own ancient stories, and the life that is yet to unfold," says Crocker in her artist statement. The gallery says: "Primarily a figurative artist, Crocker has long been intrigued with the human relationship to the natural world and how it informs her artistic work.''