Saturday, December 31, 2011

Headline wishes for 2012

My friend and colleague Tom Waseleski, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, always prepares for New Year’s Day an aspirational list of headlines from which  many of us could benefit. Here, with my own imprint, are the headlines I’d like to see in 2012.

National Jobless Rate Drops Below 7 Percent

Those Benefiting from New Health Care Law Organize to Defend it

GOP, Dems Achieve Deficit Reduction Grand Bargain

Congress Passes Dream Act

Congress Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Patriots Win Super Bowl

Pakistan Routs Terrorist Strongholds

U.S. Withdraws from Afghanistan: Woman Elected President

Sanctions Work: Iran Accepts Nuclear Restraints

Buyers’ Remorse: Tea Party loses House seats

New Bookstores Thrive across State and Nation

Congress Closes Loopholes in U.S. Tax Code

Spring Comes Early to Massachusetts

Tough New Gambling Commission Becomes Model for Country

Patrick Health Cost Containment Law  Embraced by All

Taxpayers Win: Cities and Towns Join Group Insurance Commission

Massachusetts Leads Nation in Creating New Businesses

Candidates Obama, Romney Thoughtfully Debate Role of Government

Boston Celtics Win More Games Than  They Lose

Democrats Lead Fight to Raise Social Security Age

Republicans Support Raising Income Threshold for Social Security Tax

Fears of Arab Winter Unfounded

Bruins Repeat

Cure Found for Black Spots on Roses

Boston Schools Transfer Millions from Busing to Classroom

Bill Bellichick Speaks in Paragraphs

U.S. Companies Bring Offshore Jobs Home

Tech Support from Bangalore Call Centers becomes Comprehensible

Mayor Menino, Don Chiofaro DineTogether in new Greenway Restaurant

Eyesore Removed : Downtown Crossing Cuts Ribbon for Filene’s Replacement;

Wall Street Bonuses Pegged to Quality not Volume

Congress Votes Global Warming, Energy Independence Law; Obama Signs

US Passes China as Green Technology Leader

Red Sox Atone for 2011 Epic Meltdown

Arons-Barron's Husband Finishes Long-awaited Book

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il deaths trigger synthetic and real mourning

The national mourning following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is so staged as to be laughable. Its purpose was to reinforce the idea that people should cope with the “grief” by staying loyal to Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un. This should be fodder for the next edition of Saturday Night Live. Far more convincing is the national mourning for Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Havel, Czechoslovakia’s dissident essayist and playwright also died this past weekend. He had led the human rights movement in the then-Soviet bloc and spent five years behind bars and decades under secret police scrutiny for challenging the Soviet regime. Contrary to Kim Jon Il’s embrace of militarism and nuclear threat, Havel, through his writings and moral authority, was the inspiration behind the bloodless end to 40 years of Communist rule, the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Havel was “the moral voice of his country and his era,’’ said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as reported by Associated Press. “His humanity, humility and decency were an example for us all.’’

Havel's significance ws driven home to me in May of 1990, just after the Velvet Revolution. He had recently been elected the new republic’s first president after the Communists were forced out. I had the privilege of travelling for a month in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as a member of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (now the Association of Opinion Journalists). The wall had come down in Berlin, and elections were underway during our visit there. We were in Bucharest for the first Romanian election since the downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu. And we were in Prague during the reorganization of government after the election of the first post-Communist president. The lilacs were in bloom across the city and countryside, and people were quite literally dancing in the streets of this charming, old world jewel of a town.

The Prague Spring Music Festival was about to take place. The opening concert was sold out. Hartford Courant editorial page editor Bob Schrepf had made the acquaintance of a couple of members of the Czech Philharmonic orchestra, who agreed to smuggle five of us up to the second balcony – standing room only. Bodies pressed together uncomfortably but no one complained; it must have been 95 degrees at that altitude in the small confines of a box. Satin gowns, which had probably been in storage since the Second World War, added to the pungent odor and intensity of the experience.

There were just two pieces on the program, the Czech national anthem and Smetana’s Ma Vlast, “my country,” in effect, a symphonic national anthem. The conductor was Rafael Kubilik, the aged maestro who had fled the country 40 years before with his wife and two suitcases, vowing never to return until his country was free. Just before Kubelik raised his baton, a ripple of excitement. Vaclav Havel appeared in the presidential box. The audience roared, and the music soared. Rose petals, from tossed bouquets, were strewn on the stage, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Emotion quite unlike the manufactured tears of the orchestrated crowds in North Korea.

The bloom is off the rose. Vaclav Klaus, a doctrinaire free-boot capitalist, narrow minded nationalist (who is reflexively opposing EU solutions to the current crisis), and singularly unpleasant man who demeaned Havel and his views both privately and publicly, succeeded Havel as president. Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the promise of The Velvet Revolution was never as rich as that Prague Spring in 1990. Havel was less effective in office than he was working from the outside. But his death last weekend reminds us of the power a man’s character can have when his persona is imprinted on a people’s movement, when his words and charisma speak to anything being possible. He was a true symbol of the audacity of hope, and the power of language to inspire.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
photo Havel by Associated Press

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Casino czar smart choice

Naming Steve Crosby to chair the state’s newly created gambling commission is a very smart decision by Governor Patrick. If casinos are finally to be built in Massachusetts, at least there will be someone of integrity to oversee their licensing and operation. Crosby is well suited to carry out the goals of fairness and transparency. As he put it, his mission is to make sure that there are more of the good things to happen from casinos (jobs, for example) than there are the bad things.

In Pennsylvania, those bad things included “cronyism, patronage, back-room deals, overlooked criminal histories, and alleged mob ties in the industry,” according to the Boston Globe. If he keeps those problems at bay, then one might also hope for a minimum of the other bad things that happen around casinos, like prostitution, check kiting, addiction, though there’s no guarantee. I’m concerned about the tendency for states to backslide on carefully drawn gambling rules when they need more cash.

Crosby’s background includes a little bit of everything (including newspaper work, for The Real Paper, and developing the Smart Routes traffic monitoring company). He has thrived in the political arena, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He campaigned for Boston Mayor Kevin White, a Democrat, in the 70’s, was chief of staff and budget director under Republican Governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, and served as co-chair of Deval Patrick’s transition team on budget and finance.

It’s no wonder that political /public life is his passion. Crosby’s parents were dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrats. His mother, Jean, ran late Congressman Bob Drinan’s (Barney Frank’s predecessor) district office. His father, Harry, a WWII fighter plane navigator, was an anti-Vietnam War activist and a progressive member of the Newton Board of Aldermen.

Recently Steve Crosby has been Dean of the McCormack School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. One of his roles has been helping Chancellor Keith Motley in the development of a long-term strategic plan. That capacity for seeing the big picture and proceeding analytically and systematically should help him develop a solid grounding for the state’s approach to casino regulation.

My only concern is that he has promised the Governor just two years of the seven-year term to which he has been appointed. It’s hard to believe it will be long enough to get casino gambling established and running according to the rules that will be promulgated.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Globe photo by Patrick Whittemore

Friday, December 9, 2011

All in the Family: Can Sleazy Aunt Betty and Crooked Brother-in-law Bob wreck a political career?

Life is complicated, and family relationships make it all the more so, especially if you’re in the business of politics. The impact goes both ways, from long-suffering spouses standing bravely by a pol who has done wrong, to the politicians enduring the guilt by association with a ne’er-do-well cousin or in-law.

Debbie DiMasi, wife of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi (currently a guest of the federal government at a prison in Kentucky), insisted to Greater Boston’s Emily Rooney this week that her husband is innocent of all corruption charges. Di Masi himself, apparently indifferent to the embarrassing legacy of recent House Speakers, is starting an 8-year term, still asserting he isn’t guilty of steering nearly $20 million in contracts to a software firm in exchange for thousands of dollars. Former Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich, sentenced Wednesday to 14 years, at least had the decency in the courtroom, finally, to acknowledge what he has done to his family. He said "I have nobody to blame but myself. ... I am just so incredibly sorry."

NY Congressman Anthony Weiner humiliated his wife by sending pictures of his private parts on the internet; NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, by consorting with call girls; South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford , by declaring his Argentinean mistress his “soul mate.” (Mrs. Sanford very publically didn’t stand by her man.) I’m not sure how sorry these pols were when they got caught with their pants down (metaphorically and, in Weiner’s case, for real) and lost their office. This scenario has become so commonplace that The Good Wife has become a top-rated television show.

Humiliation is a two-way street, as demonstrated by the Tierney/Eremian clan. U.S. Congressman John Tierney’s wife Patrice clearly has a family whose business is crime. In their case, the crime is of the illegal gambling sort. The Feds got their conviction, and yet another of her brothers is still on the lam in Antigua. Patrice herself had pled guilty to aiding and abetting the false filing of tax returns on behalf of the second brother and did 30 days in jail for being in “willful” denial about the nature of his Antigua business. Though most of the millions that went through the account went to pay for the Antigua-based brother’s taxes and his family expenses, she still legally derived certain monies from that account over several years.

As was made absolutely clear in different court proceedings, after extensive scrutiny by a very aggressive Office of the US Attorney in Boston, the Congressman was never implicated in any way in any of these illegal activities.

Ironically, and in perfect symmetry to the theme that a politician’s extended family may be the greatest curse he must endure, the best thing Tierney may have going for him,( in addition to his own progressive record in Congress), is that the sister of Rep. Richaed Tisei, likely his strongest Republican opponent, was reportedly arrested in August for possession of cocaine.

Tisei, like Tierney, has not been linked to any of his sister’s alleged conduct and also like Tierney, claims to have been unaware of any of his sister’s illegal activity.

None of this is new, and it doesn’t have to be fatal. Bill Clinton’s half brother Roger did a year in jail on a cocaine conviction. Hillary Clinton’s brother was suspected and aggressively pursued by the government of influence peddling. A judge ordered Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyango to leave the country because she was here illegally. His uncle Onyango Obama was picked up on charges of drunk driving and held because of questions about his immigration status. Jimmy Carter had his outlandish brother Billy, a good ole boy who pushed Billy Beer and Libyan investments. Richard Nixon was regularly embarrassed by his brother Donald’s financial wheeling’s and dealings with the legendary Howard Hughes. Lyndon Johnson had to deal with his brother, Sam Houston Johnson, a shiftless alcoholic. And on and on and on.

The bottom line is that, if you’re in public life – whether you’re a politician, an actor/celebrity, or an editor – or the spouse of one-- it’s often not enough to be above reproach, like Caesar’s wife. You’d better hope that Caesar’s siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws are equally free of skeletons in the closet. The challenge for the electorate, in today’s often thoughtless news media environment, is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.