Chris Powell: Racism doesn't explain why the white guys won these mayoral primaries

In downtown Hartford

In downtown Hartford

Since sometimes, as Freud is supposed to have said, a cigar is just a cigar, maybe sometimes an election for mayor in Connecticut is just an election, not part of a longstanding scheme to keep uppity women and minorities in their place.

But more than ever these days such complaints of prejudicial discrimination can intimidate, and last week Connecticut's Hearst newspapers pandered to them. The papers proclaimed disappointment that white men had won the Democratic primaries for mayor in Connecticut's three biggest cities -- Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport -- even though those cities are full of women and minorities.

The most mistaken complaint about the primary results came from state Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. "It's just hard for people to accept change," Porter said. "White men have ruled this country since its inception, so the barriers we're talking about bringing down are so entrenched that it's going to take time. That it's going to be all white men representing majority-minority cities is something that needs to be addressed."

But as even Porter acknowledged, in those three cities white men [ITALICS] themselves [END ITALICS] are a minority, since barely a third of the population of the three cities is white and only about half of that third is male.

Yes, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, a white guy, defeated a black candidate and a Hispanic one, but Bronin did not win because the two minority candidates split the minority vote. Instead Bronin won with 59 percent, signifying he had support from many blacks and Hispanics. Of course it helped Bronin that one of his rivals, former Mayor Eddie Perez, had been convicted of corruption in office. But good for Hartford that integrity could trump mere ethnicity.

Besides, Hartford already has had black, Hispanic and women mayors. Despite Porter's hallucination, nobody in Hartford is being excluded because of race, ethnicity, or gender.

Yes, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, a black woman, was defeated in the Democratic primary by another white guy, Justin Elicker, after a campaign in which Elicker was challenged about his ability to represent black people when he doesn't look like them. This challenge was racist but it was taken seriously. To oblige his doubters should Elicker have put on blackface instead of sticking to the issues?

Like Bronin in Hartford. Elicker could not have won in New Haven without support from blacks and Hispanics, and there was plenty of reason for everybody to vote for him, from Harp's recent 11 percent tax increase to the frequent reports of expensive incompetence and arrogance in her administration. Harp long has seemed to think that facilitating illegal immigration is what her constituents care about most. While Elicker probably will pose as politically correct, too, at least he may realize that good public administration is more compelling.

"Hard for people to accept change"? But change is exactly what New Haven's Democrats voted for.

And yes, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, another white guy, narrowly won renomination in his primary with state Sen. Marilyn Moore, who is black. But Ganim won because Moore's campaign failed to corral absentee ballots as well as everyone knew Ganim's would, being backed by the city's Democratic machine.

Moore still would have had an excellent chance to become mayor if her campaign could have obtained 207 valid petition signatures to gain an independent ballot line in the general election. That should have been easy, but Moore's campaign submitted only 168. That wasn't racism but incompetence.

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

Portland mulls building higher on its waterfront

The Portland waterfront. It’s a favorite port for cruise ships plying waters between New York, the Maritime Provinces and Quebec in the summer and fall.

The Portland waterfront. It’s a favorite port for cruise ships plying waters between New York, the Maritime Provinces and Quebec in the summer and fall.

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

City planners in Portland, Maine, have come up with some interesting ideas for adapting that city’s waterfront, much of it a real “working waterfront’’ (fishing boats, etc.), to rising seas. Their proposed Coastal Resiliency Overlay Zone would, The Portland Press Herald reports, let developers “build taller buildings in those areas if they prove the additional height is being used to prepare for sea-level rise and storm surges associated with a changing climate.’’

Design of such buildings would include “the elevation of the first floor above highest adjacent grade building design that allows for future modification of the ground elevation.’’ And in some cases, “the new rules would allow developers to build an extra floor.’’

Of course, some people whose view of the water might be limited by higher buildings would complain, but Portland’s planners are just being realistic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that some now low-lying areas of Portland might be under a under a foot of water at normal high tide in 2100, but 6 to 10 feet underwater when high tide and storm surge combine, probably during a Nor’easter.

To read the Press Herald story, please hit this link.

To look at NOAA’s “Sea Level Rise Viewer’’ please hit this link. 

Watery Portland from above

Watery Portland from above




In Milton, artists contra compressor

A  charcoal drawing of a new gas compressor station in Detroit, by Margaret Bellafiore, in the show “The Eye Sees, the Mind Wonders: South Shore Artists Work to Save their Coast ‘‘  through Sept. 30 at the Milton (Mass.) Art Center.     The gallery explains that artists from towns across the South Shore have joined to create a case against the fracked-gas compressor station proposed by Enbridge Gas Transmission for Weymouth. The artists assert that the station could destroy the Fore River Basin by filling it with toxins and sickening residents by polluting the air.

A charcoal drawing of a new gas compressor station in Detroit, by Margaret Bellafiore, in the show “The Eye Sees, the Mind Wonders: South Shore Artists Work to Save their Coast‘‘ through Sept. 30 at the Milton (Mass.) Art Center.

The gallery explains that artists from towns across the South Shore have joined to create a case against the fracked-gas compressor station proposed by Enbridge Gas Transmission for Weymouth. The artists assert that the station could destroy the Fore River Basin by filling it with toxins and sickening residents by polluting the air.

Milton's Walter Baker Chocolate Factory to the right.

Milton's Walter Baker Chocolate Factory to the right.

The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, on top of Great Blue Hill, in Milton, founded in 1884, is the oldest continuously operating weather recording station in    North America   . It was also the location of the earliest kite soundings of the atmosphere in North America, in the 1890s, as well as the development of the    radiosonde   , in the 1930s.    During the    Great New England Hurricane of 1938   , the observatory measured the strongest wind gust ever directly measured and recorded in a hurricane in North America, at 186 mph, at which point the wind disabled the measuring device. Some have estimated that the gusts may have reached 200 mph in the storm.    The site was chosen because the elevation of 635 feet is the highest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic on the East C oast  south of central Maine.

The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, on top of Great Blue Hill, in Milton, founded in 1884, is the oldest continuously operating weather recording station in North America. It was also the location of the earliest kite soundings of the atmosphere in North America, in the 1890s, as well as the development of the radiosonde, in the 1930s.

During the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, the observatory measured the strongest wind gust ever directly measured and recorded in a hurricane in North America, at 186 mph, at which point the wind disabled the measuring device. Some have estimated that the gusts may have reached 200 mph in the storm.

The site was chosen because the elevation of 635 feet is the highest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic on the East Coast south of central Maine.

Jessicah Pierre: What the college-admissions scandal says about America

Felicity Huffman in happier days

Felicity Huffman in happier days

From OtherWords.org

Earlier this year, a number of wealthy parents, celebrities, and college prep coaches were accused of offering large bribes to elite universities in order to get their children into schools they didn’t qualify for.

Federal prosecutors charged at least 50 people in the criminal investigation named “Operation Varsity Blues.”

Among those charged was actress Felicity Huffman, who was recently sentenced to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty to fraud. In Huffman’s case, she’d paid $15,000 to have someone cheat on an SAT exam for her daughter as part of the effort to get her admitted into the University of Southern California.

Many parents want a better education for their child — and higher education, after all, has long been considered a path to the American dream. But Huffman’s case shows an obvious bias in the system toward people who achieved it long ago.

Her light sentence is being compared to the five years given to Tanya McDowell, a homeless Bridgeport, Conn., mom who was arrested and charged after enrolling her young son in a school in a neighboring public school district that posted better test scores.

For many low-income families, the promise of education providing a pathway out of poverty is slipping further out of reach. Many are mired in underfunded public schools with few resources to provide a quality education.

It’s no surprise that many of these communities are also home to people of color. A new report released earlier this year found that nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts, despite serving about the same number of students.

As someone who grew up in a low-income household and attended public schools, I’m a product of that system. Each morning, my high school welcomed me with metal detectors and police officers.

I was one of the very few lucky students that beat the odds, graduated, and made it through college. Most don’t.

These disparities force parents from low-income backgrounds and communities of color to take risks — like using the addresses of friends or family members to get their kids into better school systems. “I would still do it all over again,” said McDowell after serving her time. “My son exceeded all of my expectations” in the better district, she said.

On the other hand, for parents like Huffman — who have access to a plethora of economic and social resources already — bribing colleges and universities to secure a slot for her children isn’t a means of survival. It’s an abuse of power and privilege.

Varsity Blues has been deemed the largest college admissions scandal in U.S. history. For sure, it highlights how the inherited advantages of our country’s wealthiest people have shaped our education system. Even more than that, though, it’s part of the bigger scandal that so many more have so much less.

As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, the extremely wealthy are using it shut out students who are already hundreds of steps behind on the road to success — all to give the already affluent another boost along the way.

Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.



Emma Yasinski: Many addicted health-care workers denied an effective treatment

Suboxone pills

Suboxone pills

From Kaiser Health News

Dr. Wesley Boyd, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, has spent years working with state programs that help doctors, nurses and other health care workers who have become addicted to opioids get back on their feet professionally.

He supports these non-disciplinary programs, in which doctors and nurses enroll for a number of years and are closely monitored by addiction specialists and state authorities as they seek to maintain or restore their medical licenses. But, he said, he is perplexed as to why these programs and other efforts to help health care providers generally do not stress a recovery method that has long been shown to be effective: the use of drugs like buprenorphine and methadone, known as opioid agonists, to relieve cravings.

“Obviously the data are clear that medication-assisted treatment is the best course of action,” said Boyd, who worked for Massachusetts’ Physician Health Services (previously known as the Society to Help Physicians) from 2004 to 2010. “Whether they’re doctors, nurses or anybody else, [they] can function perfectly well at work and in their lives generally while they’re using medication-assisted treatment.

Furthermore, he said, “the odds that they’re going to stay clean and sober while using medications for treatment are better.”

Clinical studies show medication-assisted treatment significantly decreases the rate of relapse and overdose more than other interventions alone. Most advocates advise using it in conjunction with regular therapy or counseling. Legal and medical researchers also made this point in the New England Journal of Medicine last month, calling it “ironic that clinicians, who are better positioned than most people to acquire and afford opioid-agonist therapy, are often denied it.”

But some health care professionals believe opioid agonists are just a substitute for the drugs a doctor is addicted to, and, since they bind to the same brain receptors as opioids, may affect providers’ ability to do their jobs. The opioid agonists help reduce relapses and cravings by stimulating the same pathways opioids do, but in a controlled manner that prevents a person from feeling high.

Non-Disciplinary Treatment Programs For Addiction

Non-disciplinary treatment programs have been operating in most states since the 1970s to help health professionals overcome their addiction. Instead of revoking the license of an individual who is found to be impaired on the job, these peer-run programs try to get participants back to work with mandated treatment plans that include intensive therapy, monitoring their behavior in and out of the workplace and, of course, drug testing. Throughout treatment, participants are actively discouraged, if not outright banned from, using opioid agonists that could aid their recovery.

Members of the non-disciplinary program may advocate for a participant’s return to work when they believe the individual is ready, but, ultimately, it is the state board that determines when an individual is fit to care for patients.

Bill Kinkle, a registered nurse in Pennsylvania, developed an addiction to opioids more than a decade ago and lost his license. He tried several recovery programs but relapsed and overdosed several times.

He has been working with the state’s Peer Nurse Assistance Program to get his license back. When he asked if he could use Suboxone, a brand name for a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, he was told that the nurse assistance program would not allow it unless he had a detailed plan for tapering off the drug.

So he is treating his addiction through the state program without the medication. He was required to participate in a 30-day inpatient program, undergo partial hospitalization (in which a participant is treated for several hours a day but can go home in the evenings) for an additional three weeks, receive three months of intensive outpatient therapy, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three to five times a week and pay for expensive random urine screenings

The Peer Nurse Assistance Program did not respond to requests for comment.

Some state officials are beginning to consider the use of drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. The North Carolina Medical Board, which handles physician licensing and discipline, is encouraging the state program for doctors with opioid addictions to introduce these medications.

Critics argue that the non-disciplinary programs can, in fact, feel more disciplinary than supportive and don’t help as many people as they could if opioid agonists were made available.

The programs “have no independent oversight and patients don’t have a recourse,” said Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an internist in Boston who had an opioid addiction and was both a participant in, and eventually a board member of, Massachusetts’ Physician Health Services program for addicted doctors

Grinspoon, who also teaches at Harvard, said that although he was unaware of any formal state policy against medication-assisted treatments, none of the program’s participants with opioid addictions used opioid agonists while he served.

Impairment in Safety-Sensitive Positions

Scott Teitelbaum, medical director at the University of Florida Recovery Center, which treats health care professionals from all over the country, said he sometimes prescribes the medicines to the half of his patients who don’t work in “safety-sensitive positions.”

But, he said, it makes sense to have a different strategy for patients in those positions. When the programs ask him if a person should return to practice, they’re not asking what’s best for the individual; they’re asking whether it’s safe for the public. And when patients are using agonist therapies, Teitelbaum, who also was treated for cocaine and marijuana use, said he isn’t sure it is.

A review in Mayo Clinic Proceedings of several studies in 2012 showed small effects of both methadone and suboxone on performance in measures such as reaction time and memory. The review was criticized for weak evidence and a lack of appropriate control groups.

Grinspoon noted that doctors could be taking other medications that affect their performance but face no repercussions. For example, he said, they may take benzodiazepines for anxiety or Ambien to help them sleep.

“There are tons of pharmaceuticals that could affect our performance — all of which doctors are allowed to take,” he said. “And it’s just because of the stigma that they’re singling out addiction.”

Success Rates

Critics of medication-assisted treatment often point to the overwhelming five-year success rates reported by the non-disciplinary programs — generally between 70% and 90%.

But Boyd is wary of those rosy statistics. First, he noted, they rarely count people who dropped out of the program or died by suicide. He said some professionals who never suffered from substance use disorder are forced into the program by bad evaluations.

So far, Kinkle, the nurse in Pennsylvania, has stayed on track, “white-knuckling it” without Suboxone. If all goes according to plan, his license will be reinstated in another 13 months.

“My wife found me multiple times after an overdose lying on the floor unconscious,” said Kinkle. “All that could have been prevented had I been offered” Suboxone.

Emma Yasinski is a Kaiser Health News reporter.


Providence a growing center for study of Alzheimer's

Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer's (right). Characteristics that separate the two are pointed out.

Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer's (right). Characteristics that separate the two are pointed out.

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

With the aging of the U.S. population (and far too many policymakers and others sticking their heads in the sand about its vast social, economic and political implications) it was happy news, especially for our region, that the National Institute on Aging has awarded Brown University and Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife a $53.4 million grant as part of an effort to improve the health care and quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects millions of people. The official count of those Americans suffering from the disease is about 5.8 million (with about 5.6 million 65 or older) but I suspect that’s a big undercount because many victims and their families cover up cases. (And let’s not forget that there are other forms of usually age-related dementias too, such as Frontal-Lobe Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia.)

The award is Brown’s biggest federal grant so far and will further amplify its reputation for advanced work in neuroscience-related matters.

Vincent Mor, a nationally known expert on aging and a Brown professor of health services and policy, told GoLocal:

“This grant will revolutionize the national infrastructure for research into how care is delivered to people living with dementia and their caregivers. The key is figuring out how to take an idea that worked in an ideal situation and adapt it so it can be piloted in the messy real-world system of care providers that exists across the U.S.’’

I hope that the news will lure more researchers to Brown to work on the scary challenges associated with aging.

By the way, there are plenty of local samples available. Rhode Island has the 11th oldest population in America, with 15.84 percent of the population 65 or over. Massachusetts is 25th, with 15.06 percent in that cohort, which may say a little bit about why the Bay State is more economically dynamic than the Ocean State.

To read the GoLocal article, please hit this link.

To see a hauntin movie about treating Alzheimer’s with art, please hit this link.

Auguste Deter    in 1902. She had what became known as Alzheimer's Disease, named for Alois Alzheimer, M.D., her physician/psychiatrist, who first described the disease.

Auguste Deter in 1902. She had what became known as Alzheimer's Disease, named for Alois Alzheimer, M.D., her physician/psychiatrist, who first described the disease.




Grace Kelly: Batten down hatches for Hurricane Rhody

— Isaac Ginis/University of Rhode Island

— Isaac Ginis/University of Rhode Island

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

When fall is just around the corner, and the summer heat is lingering like a bad hangover, it will come.

Hundreds of miles across, Hurricane Rhody, a Category 3 storm, will make its way from the Bahamas at a clip of about 60 mph. In this time of climate disruption, New England is overdue for a 100-year storm, and Hurricane Rhody doesn’t want to be late. The storm slams into Long Island, N.Y., then continues its upward push into Connecticut and Rhode Island. Six hours later, after 18 feet of storm surge wreaks havoc on coastal and bayside towns, and 127-mph winds rip the Ocean State to shreds, it slows down.

But Hurricane Rhody isn’t finished. It’s waited a long time, came a long way, and it wants to put on a show. So it starts to move south, creeping downward before changing course and hitting Rhode Island with a well-placed uppercut.

It has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, but it doesn’t need extreme wind and bluster to have a grand finale; it just needs water. It dumps a foot or more of rain and, coupled with storm surge, sea-level rise, a moister climate, and narrow rivers, waterways begin to swell.

The Pawtuxet River in Warwick breaches its banks, and the Woonasquatucket and Mosshasuck rivers follow suit. And since Hurricane Rhody knocked out the electric grid for the entire state, including many backup generators, the Army Corps of Engineers watches helplessly as the hurricane barrier in Providence, which was closed to protect the capital from storm surge, begins to trap the rain as it falls into the Providence River.

Two days later, Providence is flooded. The statue of a soldier at Kennedy Plaza peers out above 10 feet of water, as if surveying the damage.

Hurricane Carol, in 1954, as did the hurricane of 1938, left downtown Providence flooded.

It’s only a matter of time


The above scenario is a worst-case outcome, and while everything might not happen exactly as such, it’s likely that a major hurricane will hit Rhode Island in the next 80 years. The quote that is standard across the local disaster preparedness landscape is that “it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

“I think we’re way overdue,” said Isaac Ginis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, who developed the model for this worst-case scenario hurricane. “The last big one was in 1954, so it’s not something that you should just think about happening in the future. It could happen anytime.”

Ginis took components of past hurricanes, such as Hurricane Esther, in 1961, to create a model of Hurricane Rhody. Esther made her way up toward New England and just narrowly missed a direct hit to Rhode Island.

“You see the track of that storm, and though it never made landfall in Rhode Island, it made a loop very close to it, straight over the border of the state,” Ginis said. “But what we did was we slightly shifted the track of Esther to the west, and made the same trail, and in that case, that storm would come to Rhode Island twice.”

In this double-punch scenario, Rhody’s first hit would be as a Category 3 hurricane. It would have severe impacts on coastal communities, like the 1938 hurricane — nicknamed the “Long Island Express” — that obliterated Westerly and left 20 feet of water in downtown Providence. Eyewitness accounts of that storm report a sunny, quiet day before the hurricane hit, and since weather prediction technology was virtually nonexistent, few saw it coming.

A few hours later, the Long Island Express had left the area, leaving some 700 people dead, another 700 injured, and total damages of $306 million, which today would be in the billions.

Superstorm Sandy lingered in southern New England. Hurricane Rhody is likely to do the same. (NASA)

Westerly plans for major hit


Eight decades later, Westerly, which is at the forefront of the region’s hurricane strike zone, is taking its history, and the potential for a massive storm, seriously.

On a warm August evening, some 150 people donning pastel polos and clutching wine-filled biodegradable cups gather in the Chaplin B. Barnes Reading Room at the Lanphear Livery, in Watch Hill. They’re here for a talk on storm surge and sea-level rise, as part of a series of lectures hosted by The Watch Hill Conservancy.

They listen to Bryan Oakley, assistant professor of environmental geoscience at Eastern Connecticut State University, and Teresa Crean, a community planner and coastal management specialist with URI’s Coastal Resources Center, speak about how rising seas — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has projected sea-level rise to increase in Rhode Island by up to 9 feet, 10 inches by 2100 — combined with a Category 1 hurricane would bring unprecedented destruction.

Some attendees murmur, “Wow, I remember Hurricane Carol, and I can’t imagine what would happen today.” Others grunt and comment, “I’ll be dead by then.” But the overall vibe is one of concern.

“I think a lot of people are noticing that, within the past few years, certain areas are flooding regularly and impacting the way they go to a certain destination,” said Janice Sassi, manager of the Napatree Point Conservation Area. “People are concerned. So, this past winter, the [The Watch Hill] Conservancy spearheaded a project that is getting the community thinking about the changing climate and what that means for us.”

This planning for a resilient future project addresses coastal erosion, flooding, sea-level rise, and what would happen if a massive hurricane hit and what the community can do to prepare itself.

Part of this community initiative was the Lanphear LIVE! lecture series that brought in speakers such as Crean and Oakley and hosted workshops that taught residents how to use the Coastal Resources Management Council’s STORMTOOLS program to see if their properties are in danger from sea-level rise and/or a 100-year storm.

The Watch Hill Conservancy and Westerly residents are taking a grassroots approach to learning about the danger of a hurricane coupled with sea-level rise.

“We’re all seeing the effects of these things,” Sassi said. “I think that a lot of people feel helpless, but knowledge is power, and I think it helps if you know you’re not in this alone.”

While Westerly is educating itself about the climate crisis and preparing itself for sea-level rise and hurricane-fueled storm surge, there is another important issue to worry about if and when Hurricane Rhody hits: rain.

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and overstayed its welcome for three days, during which it dumped 32 inches of rain. Levees broke, dams were breached, and cars floated down streets. The same thing could happen here when Hurricane Rhody makes its second landfall and deposits 15-20 inches of rain.

“In New England, our rivers are relatively short and shallow, so they can fill up very quickly,” URI’s Ginis said. “It’s not like a wide river that can take a lot of rain, even an insignificant amount of rain can cause flooding.”

Ginis noted that recent research has shown that the climate crisis could be causing hurricanes to slow down, becoming less like the racehorse that was the 1938 hurricane and more like a slow Harvey that just won’t go away.

Just recently, the very-wet Hurricane Dorian moved at a snail’s pace of 2 mph during its devastating hit on the Bahamas.

Plus, as hydrologist-in-charge David Vallee of the National Weather Service’s Northeast River Forecast Center noted, with a warming atmosphere comes more moisture.

“We’re in a very-moist, wet regime,” he said. “And when there’s more moisture in the air, that means more rain.”

Vallee also noted that New England storms tend to come in pairs: Carol and Edna in ’54; Cindy in ’59 and Donna in ’60; Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. He said one could come as a “milder” tropical storm and deposit a good amount of rain.

“Rivers become swollen, the ground saturated, and if the Scituate reservoir starts its overflow release, as it was designed to do, come that second storm and more rain,” he said, shaking his head. “We could be at full capacity.”

Rhode Island could see a repeat of the March 2010 floods that wreaked havoc statewide.

The floods of March 2010 left much of Warwick and West Warwick underwater. This problem will happen again when a major storm hits Rhode Island.

Warwick knows there will be flooding


Crean, of URI’s Coastal Resources Center who works with communities facing potential climate impacts, is particularly concerned, in the face of a Hurricane Rhody scenario, about Warwick, what with its history of flooding.

“Just to the east of the airport, but just north of Warwick Neck, is a whole system of wetlands and streams and tributaries into [Narragansett] bay,” Crean said. “If storm surge and rain hit, that creates a swath of flooding that cuts Warwick Neck off. There’s an emergency facility just north of Warwick Neck that would be physically cut off, so it’s important for the Warwick EMA [Emergency Management Agency] to know, first of all, to evacuate Warwick Neck. And if we want to be able to put out fires or whatever, they have to stage equipment in accessible locations because the area could be impassable.”

Part of Warwick’s problem also lies with its considerable collection of impervious surfaces, according to Peter August, a URI professor and former director of the university’s Coastal Institute.

“It's all the roads and parking lots, and when the rain falls, it can’t soak into the ground. It has to run off someplace,” he said. “Plus, they put the mall in the exact spot you would never want to put a mall; it's an oxbow, a bow-shaped bend in a river that floods easily, and so that's gonna be tough.”

The Warwick Mall was flooded by several feet of water during the late-March floods of nine years ago. A mall security guard had to be rescued by boat. Most stores had to be gutted and all inventory was declared a loss. The mall was allowed to reopen without having to do anything to address any future climate impacts.

To prepare for future flooding, the city of Warwick is revamping its hazard mitigation plan, as is required every five years. The purpose of the plan is to “reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on Federal funding in future disasters.”

The plan, which needs to be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, paints a picture of what would happen if a hurricane, like Carol, hit today. Some of the numbers are overwhelming: 28,486 tons of debris, nearly $12 million in damage to commercial and industrial property, and $120,548,000 in residential property damage.

“Oakland Beach would be almost completely washed out, and Warwick Neck would become inaccessible until the waters recede,” Vallee said.

Five percent of Warwick’s population is older than 65, and the city’s hazard-mitigation plan notes that “residents in group homes, nursing homes, assisted living, or subsidized housing may not have the resources to shelter in place or evacuate.”

Warwick’s EMA director and chief of police, Col. Rick Rathbun, believes that any hurricane would hurt the entire city, both coastal and inland.

“Because of the size of the city and our proximity to the bay, I think a hurricane will impact the entire city, whether you’re living along the coast in Oakland Beach and Warwick Neck, or if you’re in the western part of the city near the West Warwick line,” he said. “I think the biggest challenge is having people take the threat seriously early on. But I think it’s human nature to wait and hope, and we see things like Hurricane Dorian and how it stayed offshore of our coast, and that brings a false sense of security. These storms are unpredictable and they can move rapidly.”

One sentence in the hazard mitigation plan sums up Rathbun’s concern: “A powerful storm can significantly cripple Warwick.”

Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, pummeled Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly. Hurricane Rhody likely will be less forgiving.

Climate impacts have already arrived


So Hurricane Rhody arrives. It punishes Westerly. Slams Narragansett Bay. Overwhelms Warwick’s bay-connected rivers and tributaries with 3-4 feet of storm surge. Houses are swept off their foundations, debris smashes into buildings, trees fall, and power lines snap.

Then, Hurricane Rhody loops back around and dumps some 15 inches of rain for good measure. Coupled with rising seas, warming waters spawning more hurricanes, coastal erosion, and overdevelopment, the question is: Are we ready for this?

National Weather Service’s Vallee believes that state and local government are doing a lot to prepare, but he worries about the greater public.

“Rhode Island was the first state to have all of its municipalities be recognized as StormReady by the National Weather Service, which requires each town to undertake certain measures to be prepared,” he said.

This effort entails a few actions on the part of the community, ranging from establishing a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center, to hosting community seminars, to creating a system to monitor weather conditions locally. And while towns are preparing for the worst, Vallee worries that people won’t take their local government’s preparations seriously.

“But the people … the only ones left who remember a massive hurricane and what it can do, well, there’s not many left,” he said.

Crean shares Vallee’s concerns.

“What is the tipping point for making that meaningful change?” Crean asked. “I would still say it’s an education process and conversation that we’re all having to try to figure out where the will is to make change.”

Some change comes in the form of adaptation. For example, the Misquamicut area along Atlantic Avenue in Westerly, one of the neighborhoods that was devastated by both the ’38 hurricane and more recently by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, some businesses have changed their entire model to account for future storms.

“Sam’s Snack Bar and the Little Mermaids lost everything during Sandy,” said Lisa Konicki, president of the Westerly-based Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce. “There was literally nothing left of Sam’s building, you couldn’t even tell that a building had been there. And Little Mermaids, there were a few pieces of the foundation wood that was sticking out of the sand, but the building, the roof, the walls, all that was gone. So those two businesses, rather than rebuild, opted to get concession trailers. So now their space is all mobile, and if there was a weather prediction similar to Sandy, they would simply unplug and drive away. They don’t want to go through it again.”

But while adapting your business and home might be the best option now, Crean said there may come a time when managed retreat is the only option.

“The sort of holy grail of all this is the idea of managed retreat,” she said. “At what point do you have to tell somebody you can’t live here anymore? That you can’t operate your business anymore? Wickford [a village in North Kingstown] may have to move or become a more water dependent village, because there won’t be a parking lot for visitors to use.”

The climate-related changes that are possible in Rhode Island are not just a futuristic doomsday warning; some of them have already happened or are happening.

“There’s a great image of downtown Wickford and once upon a time there was a store called Ryan’s Market. Now it’s The Kayak Centre,” Crean said.

Superstorm Sandy left Napatree Point battered. Hurricane Rhody likely will cause more damage. (Janice Sassi)

Natural defenses matter


Sassi and August walk up one of the larger dunes at Napatree Point in Watch Hill. The sun beats down on visitors eager to soak up the last rays of summer, and piping plovers scatter across the sand.

“What’s amazing is that the during Superstorm Sandy ocean water crossed the dune in eight spots,” said August, a member of The Watch Hill Conservancy board of directors, pointing to the paths that twine down the swirling dunes. “On the bay side of the dune, in those breach sites, you had a classic washover fan, a big V shape path of pure white sand, not a leaf popping through it.”

He then gestured to the clusters of beach plum and waving fronds of beach grass.

“But the most striking thing to me was that three months later, you would have no way of knowing where that washover fan was, because the plants just shot up new stems from their roots and rhizomes, and it was business as usual,” August continued. “And the dunes just rolled over on themselves. It was pretty spectacular. There’s a theme of resilience here.”

Grace Kelly is an ecoRI News journalist.

Stephen J. Nelson: The lessons from Kemeny of Dartmouth

John G. Kemeny

John G. Kemeny

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

Stephen J. Nelson is professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University and Senior Scholar with the Leadership Alliance at Brown University. In the following Q&A, NEJHE Executive Editor John O. Harney asks Nelson what lessons today’s leaders could learn from his latest book, John G. Kemeny and Dartmouth College: The Man, the Times, and the College Presidency (Lexington Books, September 2019).

Harney: Your new book explores the life of Dartmouth College President John Kemeny. Why is Kemeny’s story particularly relevant today?

Nelson: John Kemeny was inaugurated as president of Dartmouth on March 1, 1970, two months almost to the day before the killings at Kent State. To say that the times were tumultuous both inside the gates of Dartmouth and outside is an understatement for sure. How different were those times from ours today? We don’t need to go through the entire litany of major issues and upsets in the contemporary era: terrorism foreign and domestic; economic crashes and rebounds; and political polarization and ideological loggerheads to suggest that current times are not a hallmark of stability. How Kemeny handled his times as the leader of a college ranging from the strains of internal and external political and ideological battles to fiscal stability in unstable economic cycles informs well and fully how and what college presidents today should do.

One important feature of Kemeny’s story that stands out today is that he was a man who came to America as a Hungarian immigrant, his family in 1940, fleeing the onslaught of Hitler’s horrors. When Kemeny arrived in New York City, he knew virtually no English, learning it on the fly as a 14-year-old high school sophomore as George Washington High, one of the elite city schools in the 1940s. Then just two years later, he graduated as valedictorian. He went directly to Princeton University, double majoring in math and philosophy.

During his third year there, he left the undergraduate life for one year, joining the Army. He was not yet a U.S. citizen, which he had to become rapidly because he was quickly assigned as a new private just through basic training in January 1945 to Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project working in the final stages of the development of the atom bomb. He returned to Princeton, graduated in four years from matriculation and staying on for his Ph.D. in math and serving as a research assistant to Albert Einstein.

His faculty leadership at Dartmouth is unparalleled—building a math department, co-inventing BASIC, the very influential computer language, and pioneering college computing through the Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS) and then on to the college’s presidency. He came to our shores as a stranger, fully embraced being an American and had an enormous impact on education and the life and affairs of the colleges and our nation. Those contributions as citizen, educator and leader included toward the end of his presidency chairing the Three Mile Island Commission.

It is trite to call his life the fulfillment of the American Dream, but it was that and more, and his footprint remains large and lasting today. And in the current environment, might a family like the Kemenys and a contributing citizen like John be prevented entry to our country? We could hope not, but there would be no guarantee. Taking “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” was the right thing then and should still be considered the right thing today.

Harney: What were some of the key challenges of the time?

Nelson: John Kemeny’s and Dartmouth’s challenges were many. The country was torn asunder by a debatable and highly contested war. There were continuous strains and pressures of protests to insure full citizenship and equity to Black Americans as well as other minorities, including women. The nation, with enormous impact on the budgets and financial stability of colleges and universities, faced three major recessions one of which in 1973-74 was by some measures as disastrous as the Great Recession of 2008. The reality became clear that the post-World War II through part of the 1960s public funding of colleges and universities was not going to be sustained. And that led quickly to massive belt-tightening brought about by enormous cutbacks (not stanched in the decades since) in federal funding of higher education.

Finally, the drumbeat of the leftover political animus and polarization begun in the 1960s continued to build through the 1970s to what came to be known as political correctness and the ideological battleground that has persisted now for five decades since.

Harney: You have a chapter on “Navigating Affairs Inside the Gates: The Horrors of “Animal House, ” the Indian Symbol, and the right-wing Dartmouth Review.” How did Kemeny’s tenure change Dartmouth’s place in the higher education landscape?

Nelson: Dartmouth in the 1970s had much of the best of worlds mixed with the worst of worlds. Overall, Kemeny’s presidency placed a highly positive imprint on the Dartmouth of those days and its future. He navigated the most difficult decision in Dartmouth’s then 200-year history when he moved—really educated—the campus, the alumni body and the trustees in the successful transition to coeducation. Not only did the college admit women for the first time in a previously all-male history, but doing it did so in a way that within a few short years found women students fully participating (certainly notwithstanding push back from disgruntled alumni in the early years) in the academic, athletic and social life of the campus.

That decision alone raised Dartmouth’s profile as a major player among the elite colleges of the day, some of whom also recently had become coeducational and others that had women in their student bodies for many years. Kemeny knew and argued publicly that if the college had shirked and shrunk from co-education, it would have decided tragically to consign itself to second-class status for the next chapters in its history. He was determined that could and would never be Dartmouth’s fate.

The Dartmouth Review was a thorn in Kemeny’s side in his last year in office (the paper distributed its inaugural issue at his penultimate commencement as president in 1980). Kemeny fought the paper even if in the short time he had remaining in office, he was not able to duke things out with them as he might have been able to do had he had longer. However, in the face of their charges and complaints about diversity, a changing Dartmouth and a litany of other allegations, Kemeny was able to maintain his and the college’s focus on equity in continuing to diversify its student body, faculty and administrative ranks and to keep Dartmouth on an even keel even as the institution evolved so significantly in the short space of the decade of the 1970s. And the gathering strength of the college that he set in motion created the stage that James Freedman as president in 1987 was able to stand on as he pricked the balloon of the Review once and for all, leaving them with vastly diminished credibility and stature. Without the platform that Kemeny had put in place, Freedman would not have had the leverage he was able to utilize to face down the Review (over their “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Freedman” front page banner) in his first months in office.

Harney: You also have a chapter on the “Economic Shocks of the 1970s.” Do you think presidents today are prepared for an overdue economic slowdown?

Nelson: One of Kemeny’s great genius creations and something initiated at Dartmouth and modeled by almost every college and university since, was the change he made in how endowment income should be conceived and utilized. He knew that having annual college budgets sway with the good or bad fortunes of the market, and investment income and portfolio performance was unnecessarily unstable and unsustainable.

Mathematician that he was, though it was not rocket science, he figured out the calculus of how to get around those undulations. It was simply to establish a conservative, he thought about 5 percent annually, using an average drawdown calculated on a five-year basis for endowment income. Thus in a good year of market performance, the positive difference would be plowed back into the endowment. That then created a rainy day fund for those years when the market fell below five-year average such that the annual operating budget built for the roughly five percent would be able to run without a deficit.

Today, most colleges and universities have partial preparation and security in the face of economic slowdowns if they, as most do, handle their portfolios and the use if their endowment incomes in this way.

The second thing he initiated on the fiscal affairs front at Dartmouth that has now also been mimicked by many, maybe most colleges and universities, was that when building a new building or even undertaking a large renovation of an existing one, that the total budget for the project had to include maintenance and depreciation. That is, it is going to cost money, real money to keep any building running and maintained: heat, light, custodial coverage, roof, plumbing and maybe even a next major renovation.

That continuing, unrelenting and unforgiving cost had to be planned for as a way of overcoming the oxymoronic idea of “deferred maintenance.” That brought further annual stability to Dartmouth’s budgets and plant operations. While that alone doesn’t solve every part of ensuing economic challenges, it is a further hedge against having any one or two annual budgets be overly struck and stymied by national and global economic cycles and even major downturns.

David Warsh: How Buttgieg might win

440px-Pete_Buttigieg_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpg

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

Along with 14 million other viewers, I watched most of the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate last week.  It seemed to me, as it did to the experts, that nothing much changed.  The race appears to have boiled down to five viable candidates.

The most recent Real Clear Politics average of various polls had Joe Biden going into the debate at 26.8 percent, Bernie Sanders at 17.3 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 16.8 percent, Kamala Harris at 6.5 percent, and Pete Buttigieg at 4.8 percent. No other candidate is polling over an average 3 percent, nor does any seem likely to do so.

So I thought I should expand a little on my earlier conjecture that, a year from now, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., might just turn out to be the nominee.  My reasoning is based on the conviction that party voters will, through the primaries calendar and perhaps the convention itself, decide to field a moderate candidate in 2020 instead of a progressive.

On this logic, Elizabeth Warren gradually squeezes out Bernie Sanders, Warren bests Kamala Harris in the California primary (or vice versa). When Joe Biden, 76, stumbles at some point, Pete Buttigieg, 37, inherits the centrist vote, and, in the end, Buttigieg defeats Warren for the nomination. To put it slightly differently: If the elderly Biden falters, the young Buttgieg become the leading moderate.

I leave to others the demerits of Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris. The advantages of Buttigieg are simple.  In his approach to the national electorate, Buttigieg resembles former president Barack Obama more nearly than anyone else.  (Obama’s achievements in office were finally remembered by all on the dais last week.) The elusive quality of gravitas , which he possesses, gives him cross-generational appeal. And as mayor of a deeply divided industrial city in northeast Indiana, he has been well-prepared by his experiences for the job he seeks, should he survive the gantlet that begins in January, in Iowa. For a contrary view, see “The Buttigieg Money Pit.”

No one can possibly foresee all the twists and turns between now and next July.  The rate at which print newspapers publish — one day at a time –– is the way the way ahead unfolds.  But it is not unreasonable to think occasionally in the future perfect tense.  When the time comes next year in Milwaukee, put all twenty-plus of the candidates who have vied on the convention stage for a thoroughly rousing cheer. Then let the nominee, whoever it is, take over.  The next debate commences on Oct. 15.

.                                                  xxx

New on my bookshelf:

Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty (English translation, Harvard, March 2020)

The Marginal Revolutionaries: How Austrian Economists Fought the War of Ideas, by Janek Wasserman (Yale)

Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, by Tom Mueller

David Warsh is an economic historian and veteran columnist. He is also proprietor of Somerville-based economicprincipals.com, where this column first ran.

 

'Innocent indeed'

Watercolor of autumn scene by    Stanisław Masłowski   , done in 1902

Watercolor of autumn scene by Stanisław Masłowski, done in 1902

“Maybe in New England in the Fall
with the trees all plush and plump like fireballs
and the waters still warmed by a patient sun
I'd write the poetry I should have done
when both of us were younger
— innocent indeed —
the world not yet the place
it's since become.’’

— From “Maybe in New England,’’ by Emlyn Wentwhistle

'Displacement and Belonging'

“Muslim Girl #14’’ (archival pigment print,) by Lili Almog, from the series  “ The Other Half of the Sky’’   in the group show “Crossing Lines, Constructing Home: Displacement and Belonging in Contemporary Art,’’ though Jan. 4 at Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.    The show explores displacement by examining in-depth both the historical context and causes of migration as well as firsthand narratives from migrants and refugees . “ Crossing Lines’’   contains 40 artworks in a variety of mediums.

“Muslim Girl #14’’ (archival pigment print,) by Lili Almog, from the series The Other Half of the Sky’’ in the group show “Crossing Lines, Constructing Home: Displacement and Belonging in Contemporary Art,’’ though Jan. 4 at Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.

The show explores displacement by examining in-depth both the historical context and causes of migration as well as firsthand narratives from migrants and refugees. “Crossing Lines’’ contains 40 artworks in a variety of mediums.

Please show your face

March_on_Crystal_City,_black_bloc_near_World_Bank.jpg

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

Massachusetts state Sen. Dean Tran, of Fitchburg, wants to ban face covering by protesters/demonstrators. He’s right but he should go further. All face coverings in public (okay, exceptions for kids in Halloween masks) undermine law enforcement by often making identification of law breakers nearly impossible. That’s the major reason that 16 nations, including some Muslim ones, have banned the wearing of the Muslim women’s garment called the burqa, which covers a woman completely except for a thin screen to let them see. They are: Tunisia, Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, The Netherlands, China, Morocco and Sri Lanka.

In this case, public safety must overrule privacy or fear or timidity or whatever other reason for hiding your face.


WPI and UMass Lowell partnering in research projects

A 19th Century textile mill transformed into a UMass Lowell facility

A 19th Century textile mill transformed into a UMass Lowell facility

From The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com)

“The University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have partnered to award over $110,000 in grants to six different research teams. The research projects range from cancer detection to alternative energy production to human robot collaboration.


”WPI and UMass Lowell have been working together for the past eight months to group their faculty and researchers together in complementary research teams. Their projects went from discussion to reality when the two universities both contributed funds to create the UMass Lowell – WPI Collaborative Seed Funding Initiative. The collaboration is expected to lead to patentable intellectual property, increased external funding, and future industry partnerships for both universities. A full list of the six grant recipients and their research projects can be found here.

“‘By combining the complementary expertise of UMass Lowell and WPI in these cutting-edge areas, we are strengthening our respective research capabilities, creating new training opportunities for our students and increasing the likelihood of making novel scientific discoveries that will lead to transformative technologies,’ said Anne Maglia, UMass Lowell associate vice chancellor for research and compliance.

“‘No one university can address the pressing problems the world needs solved. We are fortunate in New England to be close to a wealth of institutions with world-class researchers with whom we can collaborate,’ said Bogdan M. Vernescu, WPI vice provost for research. ‘This initiative will begin to tap the expertise across campuses so together we can move certain areas of research forward for the betterment of the world.”’


'Equinoctial tears'

400px-Dülmen,_Wildpark_--_2014_--_3808_color_balanced.jpg

“September rain falls on the house.

In the failing light, the old grandmother

sits in the kitchen with the child

beside the Little Marvel Stove,

reading the jokes from the almanac,

laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears

and the rain that beats on the roof of the house

were both foretold by the almanac,

but only known to a grandmother.’’

From “Sestina,’’ by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), who traveled widely but was basically a New Englander.


Hampshire soldiers on

Hampshire’s Latin motto, “Non Satis Scire,’’ means “To Know is Not Enough’’.

Hampshire’s Latin motto, “Non Satis Scire,’’ means “To Know is Not Enough’’.

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

More than a few of New England’s small private colleges are in deep trouble because of changing demographics and economics. Perhaps the most famous one is Hampshire College, in Amherst, Mass. Hampshire is well known nationally for its intimacy and for its experimental, innovative and, as they say, “student-driven’’ system. It opened in 1970 and still has a bit of its original quasi-hippie vibe from that era.

It looked as if the college would die in the academic year that ended in May but its board has managed to keep it going, under its new president, Ed Wingenbach. There was talk of merging Hampshire into a neighboring college in the Connecticut River Valley but the school, after some agonizing, decided otherwise. “That debate (over a merger) has been resolved. We will now do the hard work to have an independent Hampshire – or we will close.’’ Mr. Wigenbach came to Hampshire from the  very well-respected Ripon College, in Wisconsin, where he was vice president and dean of the faculty.

Other colleges should carefully watch as Hampshire first tries to stay afloat  through this academic year, and then to regain the strength it once had despite its small endowment

Water view

“Large Tree Reflection “ (oil on canvas), by Gillian Frazier, in her show “Nature Reflected,’’ at the Groton (Mass.) Public Library, through Nov. 24    She says: “Using nature as the springboard, I love to use the abstract nature of ‘water reflections’ as a design element and subject matter. The paintings are from a series I have been working on for the past 4-5 years. I live on a river in Lowell and have a view of water from my home….    ”I like to incorporate images of water lilies, trees and other elements of nature that can be reflected in the water. I typically work in oils and enjoy the luminosity of color and the man y  possible application techniques .’’

“Large Tree Reflection “ (oil on canvas), by Gillian Frazier, in her show “Nature Reflected,’’ at the Groton (Mass.) Public Library, through Nov. 24

She says: “Using nature as the springboard, I love to use the abstract nature of ‘water reflections’ as a design element and subject matter. The paintings are from a series I have been working on for the past 4-5 years. I live on a river in Lowell and have a view of water from my home….

”I like to incorporate images of water lilies, trees and other elements of nature that can be reflected in the water. I typically work in oils and enjoy the luminosity of color and the many possible application techniques.’’

A little jewel of a library in tiny Conway

— Photo by Friedrich St. Florian    Many small New England towns have some impressive public and private buildings. Consider this one — the Field Memorial Library, in Conway, Mass.   (population about 1,900).  T he building , finished in 1901, was financed by the great Chicago retailer Marshall Field and named in memory of his parents, John and Fedelia Nash Field. Marshall Field was born on his parents’ Conway farm in 1834. He rose to become one of America’s richest men.  Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston were the architects of this jewel of a public library, working with Norcross Builders ,of Worcester, builders of the New York Public Library.

— Photo by Friedrich St. Florian

Many small New England towns have some impressive public and private buildings. Consider this one — the Field Memorial Library, in Conway, Mass. (population about 1,900). The building , finished in 1901, was financed by the great Chicago retailer Marshall Field and named in memory of his parents, John and Fedelia Nash Field. Marshall Field was born on his parents’ Conway farm in 1834. He rose to become one of America’s richest men.

Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston were the architects of this jewel of a public library, working with Norcross Builders ,of Worcester, builders of the New York Public Library.

Bardwell's Ferry Bridge   , built in 1882, is an historic lenticular    truss bridge    over the    Deerfield River    between Conway and    Shelburne   . It’s listed on the    National Register of Historic Places   .

Bardwell's Ferry Bridge, built in 1882, is an historic lenticular truss bridge over the Deerfield River between Conway and Shelburne. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Conway is still something of a farming community (now with lots of “organic’’ crops). But this “Massachusetts Hilltown” has also lured some celebrities, most notably Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), a Modernist poet as well as a playwright, essayist and critic, and speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt. Besides the area’s rugged beauty, its proximity to the colleges in the Connecticut Valley just to the east has been a lure for writers, as has the Field Memorial Library.

— Robert Whitcomb

Tim Butterworth: Some impressive examples of American 'socialism'

Socialist system? Map of the Interstate Highway System in the 48 contiguous states. Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico also have Interstate Highways.

Socialist system? Map of the Interstate Highway System in the 48 contiguous states. Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico also have Interstate Highways.

From OtherWords.org

CHESTERFIELD, N.H.

From single-payer health care to climate change, the 2020 Democrats have ambitious plans. But these new, grand, and green deals aren’t as radical as some make them sound. In fact, big public projects are what made America great.

When President Dwight Eisenhower first took office ,in 1953, America had been buffeted by the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. The Cold War put us in competition with Soviet “five-Year Plans” and Chinese “Great Leaps Forward.”

Eisenhower was concerned that soldiers would return home to closing factories. So Ike pushed for massive infrastructure spending, creating what was ultimately named the “Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”

Congress funded a half-century of highway construction, building 47,000 miles — the biggest public works project in the history of the world. It cost $500 billion in today’s dollars, with 90 percent coming from Washington and 10 percent from the states.

The Interstate Highways transformed America

In 1919, it took a month or more to drive cross-country; the record today is a little over 24 hours. Automobile ownership skyrocketed, gasoline sales jumped, motels mushroomed, the suburbs flourished, and malls were built. Construction companies, automakers, and oil companies flourished, too, along with their workers.

There was a downside, of course. Rail and other mass transit were marginalized, urban sprawl spread across the land, the daily commute grew longer, and our carbon footprint grew bigger, as multi-lane highways destroyed urban communities.

Still, it puts lie to the chant that “the U.S. has never been a socialist country!” After all, we drive on socialist, government-owned roads.

Meanwhile there’s almost universal support for Social Security, our government social insurance. And half the country — including Medicare and Medicaid recipients, veterans, and federal elected officials — receives some form of socialist, government-funded health care.

Consider also the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation created by Congress in 1933. Tennessee and five nearby states were devastated by poverty, hunger and ill health. Only 1 percent of farm families had indoor plumbing, and about a third of the population in the valley had malaria.

Starting in 1933, our taxes paid to build TVA power plants, flood control, and river navigation systems. In 1942 alone, the construction of 12 hydroelectric and one coal steam plant employed a total of 28,000 workers.

Today the TVA is a federally owned corporation with assets worth over trillions. And while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rails against socialism, half of his constituents in Kentucky buy cheap, publicly produced TVA electricity. Free-market, for-profit, capitalist power states often pay twice as much.

Like our highway system, we need to change our TVA to meet the challenges of climate change. But that means better priorities and more investment, not less.

Federal taxes paid for the highways and the TVA, which are now supported by gasoline taxes and electric bills. In those years of great public works projects, the wealthy elite paid a much greater share of their income in taxes, with the highest marginal tax rate reaching 94 percent.

Claiming that government is the problem, not the solution, administrations since the 1970s have reduced that top rate over and over. The 2017 tax law again reduced the top rate for billionaires, creating great fortunes for a few, and great national debt, but not great public works.

Let’s get past the S-word — socialism — and have a real discussion on how to build an America that’s great for all of us.

Tim Butterworth is a retired teacher and former state legislator from Chesterfield, N.H.