Friday, May 11, 2012

New blog address

I have a new blog address, one that will be easier for you to remember.  As of May 11, 2012
please find me at:


Thanks.   I look forward to hearing from you there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Mother’s Day Remembrance

Every day at around 4:30 in the afternoon, my hand reaches for the phone to call my mother. Traditionally, it was my way of heading off a call from her that would inevitably interrupt either my work or our family dinner. Though there was often nothing new to report, it was a way of checking in and letting her know she was on my mind. She’s still on my mind although she has been gone for six years.
She’s over my shoulder when we do take-out Chinese or Thai food. She’s letting me know she doesn’t approve of putting the plastic take-out containers on the table. My sister, Nancy, and I still do it, but mother's preferred etiquette floats in the atmosphere around the meal.

She’s there when I can’t remember how to get red wine out of the tablecloth and when I have questions about the Chinese poppies that she had in abundance but refuse to thrive in my back flower bed . Fortunately, the peonies I transplanted from her house when she moved have flourished. She’s a presence when I pull out the ingredient-stained recipe cards for noodle pudding or brisket. She’s there when I walk by a store window and see her reflection in the glass, and when I hear certain expressions coming out of my mouth though I don’t think I ever uttered them when she was alive.

My husband, Jim, especially feels her absence on Saturday mornings when she would wait till she knew I had departed on my weekend errands and then call him, whom she loved as a cherished son, and they'd speak in conspiratorial tones about one family matter or another.

Her absence is felt most keenly, however, when sons Ted and Daniel display the splendid personal and professional traits of which she was so proud, and when her great grandchildren hit new milestones that would have made her so happy.

My mother was a chemistry major at Wellesley College, hired by the Dupont Corporation upon her graduation. (She used to joke that being a chem major was easier in the l930's because there were fewer elements!) Dupont, however, found out that she was engaged to be married, which would lead to children, God forbid, and there was no place for working mothers in their 1934 business plan. They fired her, and that was that. She spent most of her adult life volunteering and selflessly giving of herself to others, especially her family.

Her enduring legacy to me is in her love of flowers, her voracious appetite for reading (until she lost her sight), her spirit of determination, her humor, her ability to roll with the vicissitudes of life, her organizational skills (that also show up in her great grand-daughter), her salty vocabulary and her ability to forgive, if not forget.

On Mother’s Day, my husband – and maybe one of the kids - will give me flowers, and I’ll smile because it reinforces my link to my mother, Mim Myers, and the many ways I am connected to her every single day of my life.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Warren’s ancestry fumble sidetracks her campaign

Apparently, virtually everyone born in Oklahoma is part Native American. According to Oklahoman Sarah Burns, a writer for Politico,  “Most families that are at least three generations Okie are related to one tribe or another.” In fact, adds Burns, “the current chief of the Cherokee Tribe matches [Senate candidate Elizabeth] Warren — he also is 1/32 Cherokee.”

So, the “legs” that this story has is obviously not about the truth of Elizabeth Warren’s heritage but what we learn about the candidate from the way she has handled the revelation that she listed herself as Native American in a national directory of law professors. Apparently she did, and then she didn’t. Certainly that’s her prerogative. She said she did it to make contact with others who were like her. Maybe that didn’t pan out, because she stopped that listing when she came to Harvard Law School.

David Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian living on a reservation in Minnesota, writing in The Washington Post, suggests that those with Native American ancestry cover a full spectrum from people identifying as a tribal member to those for whom tales of ancestry are passed down from one generation to the next and the lore figures as nothing else in their lives. And he adds, “if someone with Indian blood, no matter how little, is a Harvard professor and stands a chance of being elected to the Senate, might that suggest that the American experiment is working and that we live in a meritocracy?”

The assertion that Warren got her position at Harvard due to her being Native American doesn’t seem to hold water, even though Harvard Law was being faulted for its lack of diversity. Ronald Reagan’s Solicitor General Charles Fried, who was part of the Harvard Law School hiring committee, says that talk of her being an affirmative action hire is “stupid.” As reported on, former  Harvard Law School Dean Robert Clark said she was hired because she was “a top-notch academic expert in debtor-creditor law,” and because of “her excellent scholarship in that field; and her fabulous success as a teacher.”

Certainly, her intelligence shines through her grasp of policies and concepts, and her leadership and values are clearly demonstrated by her role in creating the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But, after a successful campaign launch, she has fumbled her responses. My question is: why wasn’t she better prepared by her consultants to handle this issue? Why wasn’t she prepared to explain her ancestry? Why did she list herself in the directory and then remove her name after she got to Harvard? She seemed to imply that Republican Scott Brown was being sexist in feeding the brouhaha by questioning her credentials? I’m not sure that washes.

The motto on the license plates of Warren’s birth state proclaims “Native America.” Did Warren’s advisors fail to provide the full cultural context of what that means and symbolizes because they were afraid that, in doing so, they might be distancing her from an historically parochial Massachusetts electorate?

It’s still early in the campaign, and relatively few voters are paying attention. But episodes like this can become part of the enduring campaign narrative. How she and her staff handles things like this are often dissected for what it means about staff- candidate coordination and their ability to deal with more serious matters ahead. Surely, this must have come up in their internal vetting process.

This is the time to get her act in order, and get serious about identifying the questions, however apparently trivial, her opponent and his surrogates may raise in the coming months.

She needs to be clear, coherent and on message about the least important things if her campaign is not to be diverted from addressing issues of transcendent importance to Massachusetts and the nation.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Update: Column spurs community compassion

The power of a columnist is incontrovertible. Not long ago, Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory  wrote a moving piece decrying the plight of Shirley Simmons, mother of the late Darryl Williams. Back in 1979, he was the innocent victim of senseless violence in Boston, violence that made him a quadriplegic and confined him to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Shirley Simmons gave up her job and devoted herself to his care for three decades, until his death. McGrory revisited her story in March when she fell behind in her mortgage payments, and the Stoneham Bank threatened her with foreclosure. I picked up McGrory’s piece in a blog on March 22nd.

Dan Shaughnessy wrote movingly of Darryl Williams that “Darryl had every reason to complain and hate. And yet he never complained and he never hated.” In fact, he became an inspirational speaker, and a moving example of the ability of the human spirit to express virtue.

News of the bank’s move against Shirley Simmons prompted a community outpouring. Richard Lapchick had worked with Darryl at Northeastern University’s Center for Sports and Society and is custodian of a fund set up in his memory. To help fend off the bank’s action, people now gave to help Darryl’s mom. Lapchick is now executive director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports in Orlando, Florida, where the fund now resides. Several days ago, I  received a letter from him, reporting that the fund has recently collected approximately 25 percent of what is needed to pay the mortgage off in full. The fundraising continues, but Lapchick writes that he is “more inspired than ever by the compassion that drives the human spirit.”

Thanks to all who have given or will give. The combination of the human spirit and written word can be a marvel to behold.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Women’s rights are human rights, but will “backward” nations see them as keys to success?

High-level State Department work requires intelligence, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of optimism. This is what I took away from last week’s State Department briefings of 22 members of the Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Diplomats whose portfolios cover everything from Western Hemisphere Affairs to the Middle East, from North Korea, China and Japan to human rights and global women’s issues, were all highly analytical, had evolved policies for resolving conflicting interests among disparate world players, and seemed determined to measure success in very tiny increments. But will certain intractable problems be resolved even during their lifetimes?

Take, for example, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who heads the Office of Global Women’s Issues. Contemplating the transitional period in Afghanistan and the status of women after U.S. disengagement, she observed, “No one has suffered more in Afghanistan than women,” who “are the key to the future.” Their “survivability has grown,” as measured by a reduction in the maternal mortality rate, greater numbers of women going to school, availing themselves of economic opportunity including access to microcredit, more participation in the military and in parliament and the provincial councils.

All hopeful signs, to be sure. But the problem of violence against women is deeply entrenched, whether because of national cultural practices or misinterpretation of the Koran. Verveer says women’s strength is knowing of their own dignity. They are working with imams, mullahs and some community leaders to clarify what the proper reading of religious rules should be. Verveer’s optimism in the face of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan assumes continuing efforts to build women’s capacity to remain engaged in civic life. But it’s hard to believe there will not be substantial backsliding under increased Taliban influence.

Improvements in life, especially in economic activity and education, have “the highest positive value for continuing the changes,” insisted Verveer. It’s a slender reed of hope that education and greater economic sustainability will put an end to genital mutilation, that most barbarous culturally and religiously promoted process that afflicts women’s health and ability to shape their own lives. Verveer left us with the admonition of a new Afghan’s women’s network, a coalition of women’s organizations urging that people “stop looking at us as victims and look at us as the leaders we are.” I hope she is right. I wish I shared her optimism, especially considering the 142 million girls worldwide who have been subjected to this particular atrocity.
Human rights are repressed in different ways in different nations. Will “Arab awakening” movements make a difference? U.S. diplomats are closely watching Egypt and Yemen, among the nations where 80 percent or more of women have been victims of genital mutilation. What about Libya, where progressive activists have been tortured or made to “disappear?” We have less leverage with Libya than elsewhere because they have oil and don’t need our money.

We depend on oil from Saudi Arabia, which forbids women to vote or even drive and were barred from participating in the 2008 Olympics. We trade with China, which bans internet access, jails political dissidents, and restricts religious minorities and press freedoms.

The Obama Administration has just announced sanctions against companies and governments that use digital technology to deprive its people of human rights. So we’ are taking steps here and there, and moving forward incrementally to improve rights for women, political activists and religious and ethnic minorities.

Last night President Obama talked about the prolonged withdrawal from Afghanistan and “protecting human rights, men and women, boys and girls.” But our goal there, he said, is “not to rebuild the country in America’s image, but to defeat Al Qaeda.” The emphasis is clearly on military security and ending the war “responsibly,” whatever that turns out to mean. Human rights and opportunities for women may be pushed down the priority list when the Karzai government’s rampant kleptocracy and ill prepared troops still have yet to be properly addressed.

Managing international relations is a tough job, dependent not only on our government’s unsentimental pragmatism and technological sophistication but also on the healthy dose of optimism that characterize its diplomatic practices. That leaves experts and onlookers alike to ponder a time of great uncertainty.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.
Photo AP/Charles Dharapak

Monday, April 30, 2012

Scott Brown in full campaign mode at New England Council

Elizabeth Warren is a stronger candidate than Martha Coakley was in 2010, but Scott Brown is a far better candidate than he was back then. He was in full campaign mode at today’s New England Council luncheon. His message was clear: he knows that many in the room didn’t vote for him in his 2010 race against A.G. Martha Coakley, and he admitted that, when he meets many of the attendees who visit in his office, “we’ve been banging heads.” But, he asserted, Massachusetts voters are independent-minded, and he gives them credit for being able to vote based on the individual, not the party. The implied request is clear: vote for Obama the Democrat for President (if you must) and vote for me, who happens to be a Republican, for U.S. Senator.

While he stated both that “The Number One issue is lack of regulatory and tax certainty,” no matter what the sector, and that “Job creation is my Number One priority,” most of his speech – far more smoothly delivered than when he appeared before the same group a year ago – was an effort to document the ways in which he has voted independently of GOP leadership, across party lines.

He is, he said, the second most bipartisan in the US Senate, voting differently from his party leadership on economic, social and foreign policy roll calls 54 percent of the time, based on an independent third-party analysis (The National Journal) . He took umbrage when asked about the fact that that percentage jumps (to 74 percent by some analyses) when you take into account more of the procedural votes, often occurring in committee to keep bills from ever reaching the floor or watering them down when they get there. Still, the National Journal, based on its selection of votes, included Brown among nine Republicans closest to the ideological center. On a somewhat more grandiose tone, he declared himself to be “one of the only persons in the Senate to vote with anyone who wants to do something” irrespective of party. He calls the other members of the Massachusetts delegation “97 percenters,” that is, dramatically more partisan.

On substantive matters, Brown cited his opposition to doubling the rate of interest on student loans from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Both parties want to keep the low rate while students are still in school. But the Republicans, including Brown, want to pay for it by cutting funds for preventive health care, and the Democrats, by closing tax loopholes. Brown did at least note that more attention needs to be paid to the impact of loan availability on ever- increasing tuition. It will be interesting to watch his votes on this and other issues in the coming weeks.

Brown focused on the hundreds of billions of dollars in fraud and abuse that could be used to support certain programs, like welfare, “not as a lifelong entitlement but a safety net.” But, he warns, we have to find a way to pay for it, and not by having the GAS spending millions of tax dollars for a party in Vegas.

Much of the junior Senator’s focus has been on jobs, including four job fairs across the state, visiting businesses to assess their needs. He is especially proud of co-sponsoring bills signed into law to legalize “crowd funding” (to help small business attract investors without what Brown sees as unnecessary regulatory protection), and including a tax credit to businesses hiring veterans. Another success was a much watered down law to bar insider trading by members of Congress. He seems very proud to have been invited to White House signing ceremonies and notes that he worked these “in a truly bipartisan matter.” Indeed, his involvement on legislation has been more productive, in many ways, than the early years of John Kerry’s first Senatorial term.

He says he’s out to do “things that matter,” like the Violence against Women Act,” saving the Post Office, providing resources for Homeland Security. He says we don’t need ideologues in Washington, and that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. When it comes to the next round of budget and debt debates, he says he “won’t play the shut-down-the-government game.” He says he doesn’t work for Mitch McConnell. “I work for you,” he told the business crowd, who seemed quite warm to him.

But I would be surprised if, reelected, Scott Brown would ever be an Ed Brooke type of Republican. What will he look like if he gets a six-year term? How actively bipartisan will he be with the possible shrinking of the number of centrists after the 2012 election, given the absence of retiring senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Olympa Snowe (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NB). For now, though, his message of independence, and his more polished presentation, mean that Elizabeth Warren has her work cut out for her in trying to unseat him.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Uncertain results of Arab awakening will have definite impact on U. S. strategic interests

We won’t know for some time the long-term impact of the Arab Spring or which nations will thrive, but, for now, the United States views Tunisia as a model of what should happen. That was one message given to Monday’s State Department briefing of editorialists from the Association of Opinion Journalists (formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers) in Washington.

How “the Arab spring” countries evolve toward democracy is key to United States strategic interests, so much so that the State Department has named a special coordinator to monitor the transitions. He is William Taylor, Jr., named last September to make sure that "assistance to the countries of the Arab revolutions is coordinated and effective.”

Tunisia, where the news of 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouzazi’s self-immolation sparked the first national uprising, offers the most promising example. According to Taylor, it has successfully written a constitution and elected a constituent assembly. Its interim government is a coalition of moderate Islamist and secular parties. Tunisia “worked hard, shows moderation and is a model for the region,” said Taylor, noting “They’re doing the right thing.” Tunisia, with its10 million people, could be a solid ally in this new Middle East.

Because Tunisia is already looking at a significant deficit in its first budget, the United States is looking to make a $100 million cash transfer, $30 million in loan guarantees allowing it to borrow ten times that much in the international financial markets, and $2o million in an enterprise fund to leverage private sector investments. Walker also sees a return of the Peace Corps to Tunisia.

The prospects are not so clear for Egypt, a dramatically larger and more strategically pivotal country, where we already have a large economic investment. To outside observers and to many Egyptians, the current situation is fraught with peril, but to Taylor, the five preliminary election rounds have been “pretty good ones.”

While the Muslim Brotherhood promises to be middle of the road and focus on economics, the United States is waiting to see what kind of government emerges before deciding how to be of assistance. A presidential election is anticipated mid May. The problem right now is that no one is particularly in charge, and recent raids on NGO’s and harassment of bloggers are particularly worrisome threats to stability . Egypt, home to 85 million people, is also in financial crisis. Congress has conditioned future assistance on Egypt’s continuing to adhere to the Camp David Accords’ commitment to Israel and to the continuing transfer of power from military to civilian authorities. But this commitment is not a done deal.

Libya has plenty of money (from oil and gas production, with another $100 billion stashed around the world by Ghaddafi) but is far behind in the democratization process. June 23 marks the first election in 40 years. They don’t know how to create voting lists or even how to handle ballot boxes. If Libya gets its act together, it could actually be a source of financial assistance for Tunisia and Egypt. The United States is also counting on money from Eurozone and wealthy Arab nations to aid “awakening” cash-strapped nations. But given the parlous economic condition of Europe and the frequent difficulties of Arab states to act in concert, the fulfillment of this expectation is unclear.

Down the road, Yemen and eventually Syria may emerge to join those in the transitional office portfolio, which has the potential to influence the balance of power in the region and the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. Obviously the timing here is uncertain and the outcomes, at this early stage, seriously in question.

Whether the American position, as expressed by our State Department is just optimistic thinking or rooted in hard reality, will become clearer in the next few months, especially in light of developments with Iran, which were not addressed..
I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.
Photo by John R. McClelland