Brute power and Saddam
: Want a lesson on brute power? Read this column
about Saddam, his layers of security forces, the Iraqi army, and the slow U.S. military buildup. Nothing more to say.
Visceral good sense
: Joan Vennochi should just admit the obvious: 1.) She was a partisan backer of Shannon O’Brien because of Shannon’s gender. 2.) She has a visceral dislike of Mitt Romney. 3.) She’s bitter about the November election. Joan started out this morning’s column
verifying, in an unspoken way, the above three points. But something happened along the way: She makes visceral good sense at the end, writing: “Democracy is about finding the middle ground. Practical consensus lies somewhere between the mean-spirited invective advanced by conservative talk radio hosts whose adolescent goal in life is to get attention and the often wasteful tendencies of liberal advocates who wrongly believe that the expenditure of money improves every human condition, including stupidity.” ... Whenever Joan gets beyond her angry self-righteousness, she’s good. Very good.
Those pesky pay raises:
Hub Blog can’t get too worked up about the legislative pay-raise issue
because: 1.) Voters approved a constitutional amendment that wisely made legislative pay raises (and even pay cuts) automatic every two years, based on a median-household-income formula. 2.) Many people lose their jobs or see their salaries and commissions frozen and/or cut during a recession, but a lot of other employees still get small cost-of-living increases during recessions. ... Hub Blog’s gut instinct says that state Rep. Michael Festa’s gut instinct is right when he says lawmakers should reject the pay raise out of timely principle. So if they reject the pay raise, fine. But if they accept it, fine, too, for they’re merely abiding by a fair mechanism set forth by voters. Enough with this third-rate symbolic issue.
Al Sharpton Watch, Day III
: Margery Eagan takes a whack at explaining Al Sharpton
. Margery: “For when you hear Al Sharpton up close, in person, two thoughts come to mind: that he may indeed be a media-mad huckster who's insulted Jews and never apologized about Brawley, who concocted a tale about a white gang rape. But he can talk.” ... One small quibble: He is
-- not ‘may indeed be’ -- a media-mad huckster who's insulted Jews and never apologized about Brawley. But Margery is right: He’s incredibly eloquent, even stirring, when giving voice to those who don’t have much of a voice in society. An intriguing man whom I’ve secretly, God help me, come to admire.
They’re already building new seating behind the Green Monster
above Lansdowne Street? Why wasn’t Boston’s official Sidewalk Superintendent informed about this? Not that I mind the change.
A fun piece by Alex Beam
, who writes about his “experiment in anticipatory archeology,” i.e. the possible demise of McDonalds and Burger King et gang. Beam appears to think the greatest threat against fast-food outlets are the anti-tobacco-like lawsuits now pending against the industry. But it’s now clear the big tobacco settlements did little to harm that industry. The tobacco companies merely passed the settlement costs onto suckers like me. People are still smoking, about 20 to 25 percent of the population, if I recall correctly. What’s really hurting the fast-food industry is the changing eating habits of Americans, who, by and large, are becoming more picky and sophisticated about what they eat. It might even be argued that America is now undergoing a mini-culinary renaissance, borrowing a lot from Europe and Asia, and making some of it up as we go, especially in California. One can see the changes here in Boston with the opening of so many exciting new restaurants, bakeries, outdoor produce markets, high-end supermarkets like Bread & Circus. There’s now a popular ‘Food Network’ on national cable TV and a popular ‘Phantom Gourmet’ show on NECN. Times are changing -- thank goodness. ... Postscript: Suggestion for a new food-chain concept: Old-fashioned butcher shops. We need them. Interested VC types can contact me at above email.
. This week’s BBJ editorial
, written by editor George Donnelly, nails it on housing: Local zoning laws, particularly those in the suburbs, are the main obstacle to easing the housing shortage in eastern Massachusetts. ...
And while you’re at it
: ... Check out Donnelly’s regular BBJ column this week, headlined “When does budget cutting become foolishness?”
Disagree with some of his points, such as: ‘The problem in Massachusetts is one of underinvestment, not overspending.’ Sounds like an old George Will line about Americans being ‘undertaxed.’ Still, there’s this line: “The state needs a leader to articulate our values as a commonwealth, and then convince people they're worth paying for. It's time to stop the pandering on taxes. It's a bad business strategy.” Bingo. ... Somehow, Mitt has allowed the budget debate to be turned into the old ideological late-’80s/early-‘90s fight over tax-and-spend vs. no-new-tax pledges. How tiring. Critics of Mitt love arguing along these lines. And they’re right to do so, because Mitt gave them the political opening with his no-new-taxes pledge on the budget. Lost in the shuffle has been the need for genuine reform in state government, to change how things are done on Beacon Hill, to reduce the cronyism and patronage, to give us more bang for the buck. What Mitt should have said is: No reforms, no new taxes. There’s no way to statistically prove it, but the vast majority of Mitt’s support (or at least the support he got from people like humble little Hub Blog) came from those who wanted to confront the machine now running state government and make it more responsive. Instead, we got a debate over a stupid no-new-taxes pledge. No wonder critics of Mitt are almost gleeful at the pickle he's got himself in. Ugh.
Update -- 1: 40 p.m
.: Yikes. Got a fast response to the item from Steve of Arlington, yet another regular reader who has returned to Hub Blog now that the holidays are over. Steve’s first line: “I thought you weren’t going to blog too much today?” My answer: Yeah, I always say that and the opposite happens. Besides, it’s lunch time and I’m on a diet. ... Steve also added: ‘Why are you knocking no new taxes? It’s the only alternative to liberals’ spend, spend, spend, tax, tax, tax. ... ’
Answer: Because it plays into the hands of ‘spend, spend, spend, tax, tax, tax’ liberals. Taxes are not static. There’s no magical level, at any one time, about where, exactly, taxes should be set. Sometimes they need to go up. Sometimes they need to go down. Sometimes you need to eliminate harmful taxes. Sometimes you come up with new ones. The same goes for spending. The ideas of ‘spend, spend, spend, tax, tax, tax’ and ‘no new taxes’ are based on false assumptions -- static assumptions about spending and taxing levels. So if a person like Mitt, meaning well, allows himself to get suckered into such a debate (as he did), he’s opening himself up to criticism if or when he has to go back on that pledge. When he does, liberals will say, ‘Ah ha! We were right!’ That's why they're so gleeful about the way this debate has been framed.
But they aren’t right. Because they generally won’t accept, in an opposite sense, that spending also goes up and down, that old programs should be eliminated when they’re not working, that new programs can’t and shouldn’t be funded as long as a bureaucracy/machine fails to hold the line on spending and refuses to constantly trim and reform existing programs, that bad economic times require both painful cuts and taxes, that the electorate reaches a non-magical point where it says, ‘Stop with the spending and tax increases!’ I.e. Liberals have a static assumption that spending and taxes always go up. If Mitt loses this budget battle as he’s allowed it be framed, the wrong people -- the very ones who helped create the current mess -- will smugly say they were right and go back to doing what they’ve always done. Ugh. Again. ...
... Now back to my paid freelance work.
Update II -- 4:45 p.m.:
A reader from Lexington suggested that the use of the word 'static' isn't quite correct. He said I should be using the word 'elastic' to describe liberals' views on spending and taxes, i.e. they're always going up. Know what he means, but 'elastic' implies that something can also contract, which isn't the case with ever increasing spending and taxation levels. What I meant by 'static' is that A.) Liberals seem to believe that there's a certain, static level at which spending must be maintained and can't go down -- but it can always go up from that level, along with taxes to pay for it. B.) No-new-taxes conservatives seem to think (merely by mouthing 'no new taxes') that there's a certain, static level at which taxes must be maintained and can't go up -- but can always go down. Both are unrealistic assumptions. Ideally, we’d all reach a consensus about what’s a generally static, acceptable level of spending and taxation, pat ourselves on the back -- and then watch the two fall out of balance almost immediately because of, oh, falling or rising oil prices, rising union contracts, a collapse or rise in housing valuations, a heavy snow storm that wipes out the snow-plowing budget and requires emergency cuts in other line items, the daily ebb and flow of an economy and the tax revenues it produces. Again, both arguments are based on unrealistic ‘static’ assumptions. Hope this clarifies things.
: Posts will be light today. Lots of work. Here goes:
-- Never saw or heard of this TV show, ''High-Tech Fever,
'' perhaps because it’s played only on Cambridge’s community-access channel. But the show, hosted by a ‘career MIT student’ named Joost Bonsen, indeed sounds ‘swell.’ ''High-Tech Fever'' airs live at 6 on Wednesdays, and is rebroadcast throughout the week, according to the Globe. Maybe NECN, which has the only week-night business show on local TV, might pick it up, after spiffing up the production a bit without losing the quirky quaintness.
-- Joe Sciacca
bemoans the declining ambitions and clout of the Boston City Council. Alas, as Joe would say, not much is going to happen as long we have Mayor For Life.
-- Al Sharpton Watch: Took a jab at Al yesterday -- and felt like a true right-wing ranter for the rest of the day. Didn't feel right. Then I read this article
on Sharpton this morning. Sounded like a great sermon. Feel better. He still has a day left in Boston to stir up unnecessary problems, but yesterday’s appeal to the young was moving.
Somehow, Hub Blog ended up with a lot of free time today and a lot of good stories and a letter to blog about. So here goes ...
The war, it began months ago
: Not sure if it was truly appropriate of the Globe to write this story about our Special Forces
(along with, apparently, British, Australian and Jordanian commandos) in Iraq. Makes me a little nervous about their safety. But, hey, we’ve been bombing Iraqi sites for months now, and Saddam surely knows we already have Special Forces in the country. Cool story with lots of details. ... This isn’t a cool story with lots of detail
. Not the reporter’s fault. Al Sharpton is Al Sharpton. His view on Iraq: It’s about oil. Nothing about a madman with a strong desire to get his hands on a.) other countries’ oil and b.) oil money to buy weapons of mass destruction. ... Is Al really in Boston for three days? Wonder when he starts shattering, with demagogic outbursts, the admirable but fragile relationship between the African-American community and the cops. God help us. Three days?
What did we do to deserve this?
: Check out Tom Friedman's column
about oil, a madman, weapons of mass destruction and SUVs. He connects a lot of the dots, in my opinion. And Al? Forget it.
Mitt, the big drama unfolds
: Can’t remember the last time a state budget debate received so much media attention. Good. It’s definitely the center of probably the most important political showdown in Massachusetts in a long, long time. Jeff ‘Romney’s no Weld’ Jacoby
and Eileen ‘We’ve heard this Before’ McNamara
both draw comparisons between what Bill Weld said in ‘90 and what Mitt is saying today. I find it curious that Jeff didn’t mention taxes (or no-new taxes) once in his column. I find it equally curious that Eileen seems, in a backhanded way, to acknowledge that state government did bloat up in the ‘90s. ...
Mitt, the big drama unfolds, Part II
: ... You know the holidays are definitely over when Hub Blog starts to get emails again from both Reader No. 1
and Brighton Reader
. Brighton Reader, a rock-solid Dem, thinks Mitt should be held to his no-new-tax pledge on solving the budget crisis. Methinks Brighton Reader is up to Democratic mischief, eh? Excerpts from his letter:
“Mitt made a promise. He should keep it. Whether it is George Bush and ‘Read my lips’ or Mike Dukakis's ‘lead pipe cinch’ guarantee during his first governor's race that he would not raise taxes, you pay a price when you renege on a commitment you campaigned on. Mitt made this pledge a defining difference between him and Shannon O'Brien. He used the one billion dollar deficit estimate even though everyone else figured it was two billion.
“His decision to forgo his salary is made hollow by the fact that he used the money to increase the pay of his staff. I thought the point was to decrease the overall size and cost of state government, not just reallocate the same funds to different people. Do you really think that Eric Fehrnstrom, former campaign press secretary, now ‘communications director,’ was making $150,000 at the Herald? ... While I agree with you that Romney is better as CEO than pol, I do not think voters want him to replicate the corporate practice of giving raises to people at the top while getting rid of people on the bottom. Cabinet and staff members who don't like the salary levels can look elsewhere. As DeGaulle is supposed to have observed, ‘The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.’"
Hub Blog’s response to Brighton reader
: Again, I wish Mitt hadn’t made his no-new-taxes pledge on the budget. Hey, he refused, if I recall correctly, to sign a no-new-taxes pledge in general and has reserved the right to raise taxes in other areas. Doesn’t make sense. But I am rooting for him to restructure and streamline state government. Hub Blog’s mantra: No reform, no new taxes. Catchy, ain’t it? ... Getting lost in the shuffle of the current budget debate is a certain, er, vote that took place in November on Question 1, the anti-tax referendum that did surprisingly well. If there are no reforms AND new taxes, look for a radical variation of Question 1 to pass in the future. People are fed up with the way business is conducted on Beacon Hill.
... Bonus column on Mitt and the boys, this one from Margery Eagan
. The fun graf : “Now let's compare Sir Galahad and Lady of the Lake, paragons of all that is fine and pure, calm and even humble (that Mormon thing again) with what the scowling ‘Trav’ and the glad-handing ‘Mr. Speakah’ have come to represent. That is, a grasping, greedy, conniving, and ever-desperate band of grifters who do their best work, like things that crawl in the night, somewhere in the slippery dark underbelly of this den of rogues and scam artists.” ... Like I said: No reforms, no new taxes.
Africa and oil
: A sad but true editorial on the tragedy unfolding in Africa over oil
. When governments ‘work’ in Africa, money from oil fields tend to end up in government officials’ Swiss bank accounts or used to purchase military hardware. When governments don’t ‘work’ in Africa, the oil companies just cash in the profits for themselves. Either way, the average African gets screwed. Oil is a curse in Africa. ...
... Which leads to this excellent story in the Globe’s “Ideas” section on whether globalization has led to global inequality
. A fair, balanced, intriguing look at the way opposing arguments are statistically argued. But the best part of the article, besides debunking a lot of myths about ‘inequality,’ is that maybe the argument over inequality is simply not the point. From the article: “And here the news may be good: By many accounts, even where inequality is increasing, poverty is on the decline.” Ding, ding, ding! ... Clearly, if you have a country with a billion or so people, like India or China, with almost unspeakable poverty across the board, the eventual move to capitalism -- and more economic prosperity -- means some are left behind. But many others also scratch their way out of poverty. Look at India: Today, its growing middle-class now has, by some accounts, as many people as the entire population of the United States
. Yes, 750 million people are still mired in poverty in India. But 250 million are better off than they were. China and India have already experimented with equality-based socialism -- and it led to disaster, poverty and, yes, death. ‘Progress’ ain’t pretty and isn’t always ‘fair,’ but it saves lives.
‘Overhaul the state's antiquated zoning law’
: Yes! At last! Long term, I think state zoning changes
-- not the budget -- could define the Romney administration for decades to come. (The Globe’s Anthony Flint has been all over this story.)
The FBI connection
: Both Howie Carr
and Peter Gelzinis
have always been two or three steps ahead of the public in understanding the true dimension of the Bulger/FBI scandal. Obviously, a lot of Globe reporters -- including Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill -- deserve credit for cracking and understanding the story, too. But I’m just not buying into the FBI-deliberate-bungling story. Not yet. Don’t know why. Maybe I’m naive.
Research and immigration
: I think an institution which helped us win World War II and the Cold War -- and which gave us such great leaders as James Killian Jr. and Jerome Wiesner -- knows what it’s doing in terms of national security
. There’s no need to reinvent the national-security wheel at MIT or at other great research institutions. A little tinkering, definitely. Wholesale changes, no. Remember: It was immigrants who played critical roles in some of our most spectacular scientific successes last century, such as, oh, the Manhattan Project and putting a man on the moon.
War and immigration
: Yes, we need to crack down on illegal immigrants
. The existence of 19 illegal immigrants who hijacked four planes and killed 3,000 people is obvious proof of that need. But ... see above item. Common sense, not to mention common decency, should rule, on a case-by-case basis, ideally. But that's probably asking too much from bureaucracies that were still processing permit papers of hijackers a year after they brought down the World Trade Center towers. ... Hub Blog knows firsthand that the State Department is taking a blunderbuss approach to the problem. I have a non-Arab, non-Muslim friend who loves living in America and doesn’t want to leave. But he’s leaving under pressure from State because he holds the wrong type of passport. Going to his good-bye party tomorrow. What a shame.
: A reader writes in that I probably got some facts wrong in the above item. Reader: "All that I remember reading is that these hijackers were in this country legally. And your comment immeduately after the above sentences ("...that's probably asking too much from bureaucracies that were still processing permit papers of hijackers a year after they brought down the World Trade Center towers") seems to strongly suggest they were going through the correct INS procedures. Of course, now I cannot find articles stating either way whether they were or not to make my point."
Hub Blog's response
: The reader may be right, actually. Recall the same thing. (And, no, the hijackers weren't 'immigrants' but were here on student visas, most of them, anyway, if I recall correctly.) Thanks to the reader for pointing it out, but I don't think the thrust of my argument is screwed up at all, to wit: We seemed, pre-Sept. 11, incapable of monitoring our legal (let alone illegal) immigration, and totally incapable today, post-Sept. 11, of weeding out of the bad from the good, thus the use of the blunderbuss approach. The complete inability to differentiate between the two is scary. The whole immigration system is screwed up, and we all know it. And a lot of innocent people are being thrown out of the country, and we know it. Thanks again, though, to the reader for pointing out the mistakes.
: Just found out my friend can probably stay in the U.S. for a few more months. The wheels of immigration justice seem to be working in the right direction for a change.
The first day
: Well, Hub Blog didn’t get a chance to watch Mitt’s speech
(though I saw the festivities leading up to it), so, once again, I’ll have to rely on others to assess what he actually said. Scot Lehigh
, who’s usually right on target, says he flubbed it. Brian McGrory
, who was definitely on target during the election, says Mitt is ‘off to a rollicking start,’ though he’s still a little worried about Mitt’s miserable campaign this past fall. (I can’t agree more). Howie Carr
, who usually just targets his targets, said it was a bad speech -- for hacks. But the best piece seemed to come from, of all people, a business reporter, the Globe’s Beth Healy
, who provided small, telling details about the venture capitalist’s first day as a full-time politician. She didn't seem overly impressed. Still, seems everyone agrees: Mitt’s business outlook dominated the tone, substance and atmosphere. ... All of which leads me to think: When Mitt pays too much attention to what his political handlers say, he’s awful. When he goes with his gut business instinct, he’s much better off.
: Check out Dan Kennedy's overview
. He thinks Scot Lehigh's piece was the best. And Lehigh definitely had good points. But a few quick points: 1.) The budget crisis today WAS partly caused by consistent spending above the inflation rate throughout the '90s. (Comparing spending to the '80s isn't the point. Overspending is overspending.) 2.) The main spending culprit in the '90s was health care. 3.) One can talk about this outrageous tax cut, or that outrageous tax hike, but they pretty much cancel each other out in the current formula. 4.) It's ultimately about the economy, silly us. Revenues are down here and elsewhere. 5.) I don't think Mitt can solve this crisis without a combination of deep spending cuts and, yup, a tax hike in the end. Hope I'm wrong, but, unless the economy picks up ...
: Cosmo Macero
saw the pre-speech pomp yesterday and thinks Swift set the tone of cold pettiness when she met with Mitt. I suspect she probably had an inkling Mitt was going to shitcan some of her appointments.
Whitey in London
: I started humming ‘Werewolf of London’ when I read this piece
. But, as usual in the Bulgers saga, it’s the sidebar that intrigues
. The fact Whitey opened a London bank deposit box in 1992 in Billy’s name is not a big deal. How many insurance, 401(k) and health-care forms have you filled out without telling a family member they’re listed as a contact person, beneficiary, reference, etc.? But the story doesn’t end there. Apparently, the London bank routinely contacted an ‘unidentified’ person at Billy’s South Boston residence -- in 1997, when Whitey was on the run -- that the bank’s office was moving, or whatever. In October, Scotland Yard and FBI agents opened the bank deposit box and, lo and behold, there was 50 grand in assorted currencies stuffed inside. So it’s pretty clear Billy knew about the deposit box and ... Poor Jackie, Billy and Whitey’s brother. He’s being persecuted on perjury charges for allegedly lying about -- bank deposit boxes.
First Amendment Rights in Westfield
: Initially, I thought this was a straight-out First Amendment case
and it would be over with, pronto. Now I’m beginning to believe the issue truly does involve a form of bias against religious free expression. Deans and principals crack down on student-run newspapers. People get upset. But a high school prohibits distribution of non-approved literature (constitutional wrong No. 1) and then moves to suspend seven students for handing out candy canes with religious messages attached to them (constitutional wrong No. 2), and First Amendment backers aren’t rallying to the kids’ cause? Don’t get it. My only conclusion (based on my own ugly prejudices) is that, well, they are a bunch of kooky, annoying born-again Christians with weird views on the origins of candy canes and they’re being backed by a cause-mongering interest group I don’t necessarily trust, right? But aren’t we supposed to work around such prejudices and defend these kids’ rights? Do they really deserve suspensions, for cryin’ out loud? I know there’s a constitutional separation-of-church-and-state issue lurking here somewhere. But there’s a difference between state ‘sponsorship’ of religion and state ‘prohibition’ against religious expression. Is Westfield High School also cracking down on students exchanging Christmas cards and gifts? I doubt it. ... Postscript: As for Westfield’s ban on distribution of non-approved literature in general, I truly hope some kids come to school armed with, say, leaflets denouncing/supporting the coming war with Iraq. Let’s turn it into a real test case. Bottom line: We need to let kids learn how to express their opinions on a wide variety of issues, including distributing non-school sponsored candy canes with dopey religious messages on them.
: H.D.S. Greenway
has been on a roll lately. A nice balance between going after the ‘root causes’ of terrorism while recognizing the terrorists responsible for 9/11 just can’t be reasoned with. Love this last line: “Of all the graffiti that sprang up on walls and signs around ground zero in the weeks following 9/11, one caught my eye as summarizing all the sassy resilience that Americans need in these troubled times ahead. It read: ‘Infidels welcome here.’
Boston hit blogger
: Damn. Knew I should have put pictures of hot chicks
on this blog to drive traffic. He's also good -- and knows it. ... Where did I read this guy is destined for a TV show? Oh, yeah, his own web site. ... Guess I'm going to have to start putting up favorite Boston-bachelor recipes (Swordfish Provencal etc.) to counter this guy. ... Seriously, hilarious, off-the-wall, classic blog. Read it. ... "I laughed, I cried. ..." ... (via everyone else on the 'net -- and it seems I was the last to know in Boston).
‘We want to review all of these last-minute appointments’
: Off to a good start
Big day on Beacon Hill
: He gets sworn in today
as governor. Now the question is: Which governor will show up? The schmaltzy Mitt who ran one of the worst campaigns in the early stages of his election bid? Or the serious management Mitt who emerged after the election and wowed supporters and (many) critics alike? ...
... Scot Lehigh
has some kind words to say about Jane, Tom and Tripp as they leave their posts. I suppose he’s right, to an extent. But Jane, in particular, was in way over her head and she’ll soon be forgotten
. However, Hub Blog has decided that Howie Carr
was being a little unfair when he nominated Jane as the worst governor in the history of Massachusetts. After I posted on Howie’s column yesterday, a Hub Blog reader wrote in to nominate none other than Paul Cellucci as the worst governor in Massachusetts history. You know what? The reader is right. Cellucci had everything going for him: experience in the legislature, six years serving with Bill Weld, and a victorious election campaign in ‘98. What happened? He fell flat on his face, let Finneran and Birmingham run state government, contented himself with playing with his patronage Tinker Toys in the corner office, then bolted for Ottawa before serving out his entire term, leaving us with his hand-picked successor, Jane. Yes, Paul richly deserves the honor as the worst governor in Massachusetts history.
Save our stone walls!:
What an interesting, oddball subject for an op-ed piece: Rallying the people of New England to save our classic stone walls
. Had no idea they were being bought up, trucked away and crushed down for construction purposes. The author, Robert M. Thorson, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Connecticut, almost lost me when he said the loss of New England’s stone walls was “far more insidious" than the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Then I thought, “Hey, the guy has written an entire book
about stone walls. Give him a little slack.” Fun piece.
The ‘conservative opinion media’: Dan Kennedy
is writing again about the ‘liberal mainstream media’ and the ‘conservative opinion media,’ sparked by yesterday’s article
in the New York Times. John Ellis
also blogged on the same article, from a different perspective.
I’ve said before I wanted to write about this issue, so I guess this is as good a time as any. It’s long, but here goes:
I. Liberal mainstream media
: There is a mainstream liberal media and a liberal bias that goes along with it. That argument is old and over, though only now are some on the left acknowledging its existence, at least for tactical reasons. But here’s my take on it: I think the mainstream liberal media is far less liberal today than it was, say, ten or twenty years ago. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, most -- but not all -- mainstream media outlets were as liberal in their news coverage as Fox News is conservative today. As a moderate conservative breaking into the news business in the early ‘80s, I found the atmosphere in most mainstream newsrooms to be almost politically correct. I felt very uncomfortable about expressing my personal views on issues. I know a lot of other reporters who secretly shared the same intellectual and professional discomfort. But something happened in the late-’80s/early ‘90s: Newsrooms started to ease up, they became less rigid and frigid, more comfortable and flexible in their acceptance of other viewpoints. The newsroom chatter became, well, more balanced and relaxed, relatively. What happened? I’m not quite sure. There are a number of explanations: the passions of Vietnam and Watergate ebbed; younger reporters and editors, whose views were shaped by different historical events and people, started moving up the ladder; the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War shattered of a lot of historical and ideological myths (mostly on the left); the shocking rise of hard-core PC in academia (as compared to mild PC in the media) and the genuine disgust many journalists felt towards the academic trend; people just got older etc. Believe it or not, I also think a lot of moderate liberal editors and reporters took conservative complaints about a liberal media bias to heart, and they acted accordingly. If you need proof of my theory that the mainstream press has become less liberal, look no further than the Boston Globe. I think most Boston readers would agree the Globe is clearly, undeniably (and admirably) less liberal today than it was 20 years ago. There’s been a shift here and elsewhere within the mainstream press -- and conservatives are not acknowledging this trend. They only see the Howell Raines, who, to me, is almost an aberration and definitely a throwback to a bygone crusading era. If you need proof of my theory on a national scale, look no further than the New York Times staff itself and ask yourself: Who are the reporters quietly resisting Raines? Think about it: They’re resisting
Raines, not cheering him on.
Bottom line: If I had to rank the level of liberal bias, I’d say mainstream journalism ranked a solid 8 to 8.5, on a scale of 1 to 10, in the ‘70s and early ‘80s (or roughly where the European press is today). Now it’s about, oh, 6.5, some days higher, some days lower. Culturally, I just accept it, just as I accept that most Wall Street stock brokers are Republicans. It’s just the way it is. No need to get worked up over it.
One last point in this category: Kennedy is right that mainstream liberal journalism’s ability to carry out an ideological agenda is seriously hampered by a number of factors, such as appearing objective (though I think true objectivity is impossible) and possessing an unbiased thrill for scandal and gotcha stories. That’s definitely part of modern mainstream journalism, too.
II. The conservative opinion media
: Never underestimate the deep, profound resentment conservatives feel towards the media, a resentment which dates back decades and decades, when both the mainstream media AND the opinion media were dominated by liberals. Passionately believing in/seeing a liberal media bias, even in the most minuscule news item, is deeply ingrained in the conservative mindset; it’s part of the lores and myths which every ideological movement has and which are passed down to younger generations of true believers.
But here’s another thing conservatives haven’t fully acknowledged to themselves: They’ve won the battle in this opinion arena. They now dominate the opinion media -- on the airwaves, on the Internet, on the op-ed pages. It’s been a rout. Why? Two reasons: 1.) They were right on most of the issues and 2.) They’ve solidified their position of dominance because of the marketplace and deregulation.
As for the first point, I know it’s hard for some liberals to accept this, but the left really is undergoing a crisis today. As time has passed them by, they’re still patting themselves on the back for the civil rights movement and Vietnam. Even stalwart liberals such as Ellen Goodman
are writing about the ossified nature of the left. The same slogans. The same clothes. The same complaints. The same solutions. As I said, it’s been a rout -- and liberalism lost control of the opinion media largely because it lost the intellectual battle of ideas. And bringing back Phil Donahue isn’t going to change that. And if liberals want to start their own cable network and hype prescription drug prices as an issue in the middle of a war, they’ll find out the hard way -- through dismal ratings -- that their views aren’t widely accepted nor seriously respected.
As for the second point, recent deregulation of the airwaves, both radio and TV, has definitely accelerated and solidified the conservative dominance of the opinion airwaves. The “fairness doctrine” is all but dead. The marketplace rules -- sort of (more on this in a bit). But before people complain about the demise of the fairness doctrine, can’t it be argued that, in a way, the
fairness doctrine was a form of subsidizing -- or more accurately, propping up -- an unpopular, outdated idea, i.e. politically-correct liberalism? To say the demise of the fairness doctrine has led to the collapse of the liberal opinion media is, well, acknowledging there wouldn’t be a liberal opinion media without government support. But where I agree deregulation has hurt the media -- both the mainstream and opinion sides -- is in the field of ownership. William Safire has written about this a lot. The monopolization of the media by a handful of moguls is scary. They treat news like it’s a fashion commodity (Laurie Dew is in Baghdad, folks!) and treat public policy shows like they’re entertainment (don’t you just love those CNN “Crossfire” commercials showing the preppy Tucker in boxing robes?). Media moguls, like Hollywood moguls, are ultimately lazy thinkers and will keep slopping out the same old crap as long as it’s profitable. These same moguls associate talk-radio and talk-TV with conservatives and, gosh darn it, they’re going to keep heaping it on as long as they’re profitable. Oh, they’ll drag a Phil Donahue out of retirement now and then, but if Phil’s shows don’t make a buck, good-bye Phil.
III. What do we have today?:
I’m tempted to say there’s now a balance of power between the ‘conservative opinion media’ and ‘liberal mainstream media’ -- though those of us who are sick of the whole 24/7 news and talk cycle might even call it a ‘balance of terror.’ Both sides (hard-core conservatives and hard-core liberals) have a vested interest in conveniently insisting the other side has more media clout. (‘I’m the underdog!’ ... ‘No, I’m the aggrieved underdog!’) But I do think there’s now rough parity today. OK, OK. There are fine points that need to be considered. Liberals will say that the mainstream press is hampered by its attempt at being ‘objective’ and that it has an undeniable non-partisan penchant for bashing the Victim of the Day. Conservatives are right to say that you should throw in, when considering the balance of media power, the clout of Hollywood and the entire entertainment industry etc. But I still insist, on a gut instinct level, that there’s a weird balance of power. If pushed to make a call, I think, as Dan Kennedy asserts, that the balance of power tilts today towards conservatives. He thinks it’s largely institutional. I think it’s because ideas count. It’s probably a combination of the two. No matter. How long will it last? I don’t know. But liberals might want to take a peek at Jeff Jarvis’ excellent
) style and substance tips on how liberals can flex their muscles in the opinion-media battle. Believe it or not, there are a lot of other bloggers out there -- many of them conservative, in a loose definition of the word -- who are alarmed at the growing pack mentality of the ‘conservative movement,’ who are concerned about a lack of opposition and agree with many non-politically correct points that liberals routinely push (including abortion rights, gay rights, the death penalty etc.). There’s a market out there to exploit, if only liberals would get their intellectual, political and opinion-media act together.
So, there. Finally finished this promised item. I know I’ve left a lot of points out of the discussion, but, hey, I ain’t getting paid for this. The bottom line is that I think the whole ‘conservative opinion media’ and ‘liberal mainstream media’ (but not the ‘conservative media’) topic is intriguing and there’s a lot of validity to the argument that the two exist in tandem -- with conservatives holding the agenda-setting edge.
OK, just got back from counting the number of empty wine bottles in my apartment. Conclusion: Hub Blog had one hell of a New Year's dinner party. Ah, some quickie posts on this New Year Day before I reach for the Bloody Mary
1. Class act
. Mitt and his lieutenant governor forgo their pay for four years.
2. Not so class act
. Finneran may cooperate with Mitt on the budget, but there’s a hitch: Give me my patronage or it’s World War III.
3. The natural
. She’s a ‘natural’ in the sense of being a hack. Jane had one last patronage job to fill before she left: A job for her patronage chief. It was the ‘natural’ thing to do, says Jane’s spokeswoman.
4. The worst governor in Massachusetts history
. It was close but Howie Carr gives the nod to Jane. Howie: “The Duke vs. Swifty. This is a debate that will echo (faintly) down through the ages. But ultimately, you have to go with the Republican, if only because Republicans aren't supposed to be quite so dreadful.”
. Alex Beam writes his ‘annual roundup of anti-Alex Beam mail.’ Not one word on his April Fool’s column about blogging. Maybe he forgot about James Lilek’s response to his column. Or maybe he didn’t count Lilek’s response because it technically didn’t come in the form of snail mail.
6. Strong leader
. Count Hub Blog as one of those Americans who, if polled, would give the president a thumbs-up approval rating because of the war and a thumbs-down for other reasons if an election were held today. Right or wrong, he's a strong leader. And I don't know how many times I've had conversations with people, supporters or critics of Bush alike, who say, "Thank God he was president on Sept. 11." Read Bill Clinton's quote at the end. Says it all.
7. Stupid, stupid, stupid
. Yet another free-speech issue in Massachusetts. No, it’s not at Harvard this time. It’s at a school in Westfield. You see, there are these dangerous kids who handed out candy canes, along with a religious note attached to each candy cane, to fellow students before the holidays -- and now they’re facing the possibility of being suspended. Not making it up. What is it about school administrators and free speech? Is there some secret leadership seminar that they all attend on the need to crack down on 1st Amendment rights? Here’s a whopper of a quote from the oh-so-progressive Superintendent Thomas McDowell: ''We have progressive discipline, and these are not bad kids. ... We will do whatever the handbook says.'' ... Progressive discipline? What the hell does that mean? Handbook? What handbook? How about saying: “We have regressive rules, and these are good kids. ... We will do whatever the Constitution says.” ... Check out the last quote in the article. It’s classic. Makes you feel good about youth in general.
And don't forget to check out the item directly below from Reader No. 1. Enjoy the football games today!
Happy New Year! Woke up this morning and found this message from Reader No. 1. It puts the New Year into a much happier perspective. From Reader No. 1
"Happy New Year Hub Blog! But don't worry so much about the Yankees trading for Bartolo Colon. Steinbrunner has spent record money in each of the last 2 years and couldn't buy a World Series. He couldn't buy INTO the World Series last year. Yes, he's added quality free agents like Jason Giambi; he's also accumulated expensive questionables like Raul Mondesi, Jeff Weaver, and Rondell White who haven't helped the team win. (How would we feel if Theo announced he'd
signed Todd Zeile?) I'm getting vibes of those 1980s Yankee teams again...
"If you had to list the Red Sox' biggest headaches, Manny Ramirez' contract would be the top of the list. Spending money is not the solution. The 90s Yankee renaissance was fueled by homegrown talent (Jeter, Williams, Posada etc); I'm no Peter Gammons but there hasn't been much out of the Yankee farm system lately. And the main figure in the Colon trade rumors is the best everyday Yankee prospect of recent years, Nick Johnson. So, let's step back and let Theo & Lucchino try to build something, and let George spend his children's inheritance."
Hub Blog feels much better, even with the hangover
The most depressing headline of 2002
: Here it is, on the last day of the year, courtesy of the NYT: "Yanks Sign Clemens and May Seek Colón."
Ugh. ... The Yanks now have eight
starting pitchers. ... The feud between Lucchino and Steinbrenner continues. From the same article: "Larry Lucchino, president of the Red Sox, roused George Steinbrenner's wrath by referring to the Yankees as the evil empire after they beat the Red Sox to Contreras a week ago. Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, needs no more reason than that comment to direct Cashman to make sure the Red Sox do not acquire Colón." ... They're going to sign Colón just to spite us. Larry, please, apologize. Say something. But just back off.
Falling housing costs
: Well, it’s begun -- the fall of housing prices
in Massachusetts. About time. Took long enough. Hopefully, this indicates the recession is starting to bottom out. Now look for some owners to refuse to sell as prices fall, but when other financially pressed sellers can’t wait any longer, that’s when you’ll see real changes. So what’s the average price of an existing single-family home here despite the 9 percent drop since July? Answer: $335,813. Unbelievable. ... On second thought, maybe we have a way to go before we scrape bottom.
The Long Walk to being a Trivial Pursuit question
: That’s Rachelle Cohen’s sad assessment
of Jane Swift. Cohen: “...It was the final days that were the worst. This state will pay the price for the mediocrity of most of her judicial appointments for years to come.” And not just the judicial appointments.
: If this letter writer to the Globe is right
, Dems shouldn’t take too much glee in Jane Swift’s train wreck. (Thanks to BK for the tip.)
Happy Birthday, Saddam
: Ah, the Balfour President-in-Residence at Boston University has its first, well, it’s first ex-dictator
. Love this graf on Kenneth Kaunda’s schedule as resident scholar: “This speech at the Federal Reserve is the first stop for Kaunda on this day. His schedule includes a lunchtime meeting back at BU on genetically modified food and a visit to the John F. Kennedy Library, where he will receive a 1964 letter that calls him ‘one of President Kennedy's favorite Africans.’ A week later, Kaunda will be in Iraq, visiting his longtime friend Saddam Hussein, whose birthday he shares.” ... You know, as far as dictators go, Kaunda wasn’t all that bad. ... I blogged on the Balfour program a while back, based on this Atlantic Monthly
story, but I’m too lazy to find the link. New Year Resolution No. 1,521: Get search engine for Hub Blog.
Dapper, he’s back! Ahhhh!:
Here’s a terrific piece by Joe Sciacca
on the truly scary implications of cloning and politicians’ reaction to the weird events now playing out in Florida. Joe: “Perhaps the most worrisome thing about cloning in the hands of politicians is that it could very easily bring us back to the future. The City Council is in session and there's Dapper O'Neil glaring across the aisle after David Scondras makes a speech, saying, ‘It's enough to make ya sick . . . not to mention it sounded very familiar.’ The doors to the U.S. Capitol swing open and there's Strom Thurmond, ready for another 48 years. ‘Ah'm baaaaaack! Where's mah biscuits and gravy?’'' ... The horror, the horror.
This Phoenix editorial
strikes me as a wee bit harsh, no? Calling Mitt a liar, comparing him to the folks at Enron etc. And he hasn't even taken office or presented his budget. I mean, well, ... Though I obviousy disagree with the tone and most of the facts that the editorial presents as alleged evidence of Mitt being a liar, I do wish two things: A.) That Mitt didn't make his no-new-taxes pledge on the budget deficit. It's going to hurt him, though if he presents a legitimate no-new-taxes/restructuring budget and the Democratic legislature rejects it, I think he can argue that he's abided by his pledge to the best of his ability and can move on from there. (I have a hunch that's going to be his tactic to get around the pledge.) B.) That Mitt would clarify his position on patronage. I've bored readers enough with my Rutan
arguments, but Mitt has an excellent, legal case -- as outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1990 anti-patronage Rutan
ruling -- that clarifies what is and what isn't patronage. So far, I haven't seen the type of patronage that would trigger a Rutan
lawsuit, not that Mitt or anyone else in Massachusetts government is dimly aware of, let alone cares about, Rutan
Ah, the Christmas week is over and the blogosphere seems to have popped back to life, so I might as well blog away too with some pent up thoughts. ...
‘A watershed year’
: All the mainstream media outlets are running their own year-in-review pieces, so why shouldn’t humble little Hub Blog? But I’m going to cheat and let Reader No. 1 do it for me. Yes, Reader No. 1 is back after a few months of work and family-related hibernation. Here’s his look back at 2002:
“I think this will turn out to be a watershed year in Massachusetts history, mostly for obvious reasons. (But this is Massachusetts and our historical roots in advanced education and religious faith often lead us to overlook the obvious):
“-- The Catholic faithful (and their lawyers) got the clergy to Do The Right Thing and toss out the Cardinal. William Bulger is next. Can anyone doubt that the lawyers representing families of Whitey's victims aren't working on similar arguments to those used against the Boston Archdiocese?
“-- There is a new, broad, statewide consensus opposed to traditional political cronyism and favoring modern professional management. Anyone doubting this should take a look at the extraordinary voting map published in the Globe two days after the election, which showed a solid Romney vote except in Boston and Westernmost Massachusetts.
“-- We saw modern professional management methods coursing through all of our institutions, not just businesses. The Governor is a former Bain consultant, and he's bringing people with deep understanding of modern management into government. The NE Patriots are run by Bain alumni, for cryin' out loud. Thanks Governor Swift, for the dismal financial forecasts: the worse the prognosis, the stronger Romney's hand to change things. And they will change. (Memo to Boston's political reporters: to understand what's about to happen, start reading the Harvard Business Review cover to cover.)”
There’s much more from Reader No. 1, reacting to some of my recent holiday-week posts, here
. And read Hub Blog’s own 2002 year-in-review rant here
, which follows the next two items for obvious strategic reasons.
Harming the poor of Haiti
: As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I intensely dislike the words ‘moral’ and ‘immoral.’ They’re slung around too much by too many people who see the world in black and white and who seem more intent on making a moral statement about themselves. In this case, though, I think the Harvard Medical School's doctors' use of the word ‘immoral’
to describe the U.S. embargo against Haiti is accurate enough. What? You didn’t know we had an embargo against Haiti? You know, Haiti -- that well-known, powerful, evil, axis-leaning threat to the American way of life? Yeah, that country. Well, Hub Blog has been to Haiti and maintains close ties to the nation. And the authors are right: The embargo is hurting only the poor there, the embargo serves no national security purpose whatsoever, the embargo should be ended. ... P.S. While the U.S. has an embargo in place, it hasn’t stopped the U.S. from putting a trade gun to Haiti’s head and forcing Haitians to buy American products, thus destroying local markets for food and other products. This isn’t ‘free enterprise.’ It’s economic bullying at its worst.
The Canadians are at it again:
Now, here’s a group
that’s the polar opposite of doctors who slug it out in the slums and villages of Haiti. The so-called ‘Root Out Evil’ group from Canada wants to do ‘weapons inspections’ of U.S. military facilities in order to find ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Get it? ‘Root out evil’? The play on words is so clever. Sure to attract the attention of the anti-American European press, which is already happening. Read until the last line, last quote. Read it closely. Yet another safe, clueless, publicity-seeking, well-educated, anti-American, lefty-leaning group drawing moral parallels between the United States and a fascist regime which has used chemical and biological weapons to kill its own people. But, of course, the activists can’t drive
to Iraq to make inspections there. (Not that they would if they could.) Ah, but they do manage to get there when it’s to act as a ‘human shield.’ And so the slow intellectual decline of the left continues.
Anti-Americanism, 2002 in review:
Reader No. 1 gave his ‘watershed’ review of 2002 above. Since I say ‘ditto’ to all of his local observations, I’d like to give my own, more global watershed review, strategically placed here after the Haiti and ‘Root Out Evil’ items. The topic: Anti-Americanism.
I think -- or I hope -- 2002 will be considered a watershed year in the sense that most anti-Americanism across the world has been slowly and relentlessly exposed as intellectually bankrupt. Sure, there are so many things about America and American policies to get frustrated over, from our Haitian policy to the Pax America traits of the Bush administration to McDonalds expanding into downtown Paris. But the Haitian, Bush and McDonalds policies merely exacerbate a deeper, already existing anti-Americanism. They didn’t create anti-Americanism. The anti-Americanism I’m talking about is of the knee-jerk, ideologically-warped, world-view kind -- a true 'ism' in which America is portrayed as the source of everything wrong in the world, as if our defense of democracy and triumph over right-wing and left-wing totalitarianism in the final 60 years of the 20th Century meant nothing, the type of 'ism' that, if you took out the anti-Americanism from their world view, they wouldn't have a world view. This anti-Americanism -- the last vestiges of a once vibrant intellectual left but now increasingly found on the far right -- is shallow, insecure, resentful, regressive, more often than not wrong and, therefore, dangerous in a very dangerous world. I truly respect Harvard doctors who toil in almost unbearable conditions in Haiti and occasionally emerge to write op-ed pieces criticizing specific American policies. I don’t respect pampered, affluent, publicity-seeking, world-view ‘activists’ who theatrically play out their moral dramas in order to win media attention and make profound statements about themselves in the process. Over the past year, I’ve seen strong signs of moderate liberals taking on these see-no-gray-area clowns -- as well as signs of moderate conservatives taking on the isolationist/Pax America clowns on the right. And so 2002 showed us there’s hope. ...
There. Got that out of my system. Now back to local items. ...
Rocky Mitt/Jane transition
: More proof on why it was necessary for Mitt to muscle Jane out of the governor’s race.
Swift’s final days have really revealed her character. She’s a hack, just like the Dem gov nominee, whom Jane not-so secretly wished would defeat Mitt in the general election.
‘Lord of the Rings’ and God
: After hearing so much about the latest ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie, Hub Blog, who has never read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, decided the other day to rent the first movie and ... and what a shock. It’s as good -- no, it’s better -- than the ‘Star Wars’ movies, which I now assume borrowed a concept or two from Tolkien’s classics. Urging my brother to watch the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie, I described it as a cross between Star Wars (good vs. evil) and the Iliad and the Odyssey. That was last night. This morning I read this article
about the debate over whether Tolkien’s creation was influenced by his strongly held religious convictions. Upon reflection, I did notice, while watching the movie, some Christian influences, such as one of the heroes making what appeared to be a sign of the cross over the body of his fallen warrior friend etc. But the ‘Christian’ debate is ultimately silly, for there were even more overt nods to Norse, Celtic, Greek and other mythologies. ... Bottom line: Fun movie.
Borges is back:
Ron Borges, who hurt his credibility by harping too much on the Drew Bledsoe trade, is back and provides
an excellent, excellent argument about the Pats’ offseason talent-acquiring strategy. Think: Cheap. The talent holes in this team are obvious. No matter what happens today against Miami (and no matter how the Jets fare against Green Bay), one can’t help but agree with Borges that the Pats’ “bottom feeding” free-agent strategy is way overrated.
Reader No. 1 responds
: "Borges' column today was much better than previous ones, insofar as the (a) the free agent roundup demonstrated his grasp of the NFL and (b) his diagnosis of the Pats lesser talents is pretty sound. It sure would have been nice if we'd signed Keenan McCardell as our big body receiver instead of Donald Graham -- it would have been worth 8x the salary! Borges' sudden turnaround to praising the not-quite-good-enough team he's been casting aspersions on most of the year should give one pause. And we should also remember that he criticized the present administration for drafting Richard Seymour in 2001 instead of a big body receiver (David Terrell or Koren Robinson if memory serves), and that pick worked out pretty well so far. Let's however not expect the Patriot management to change their practices as we have not seen much proof of admitting to mistakes in the Kraft era (the departure of Parcells... the departure of Carroll... etc). That's not to say that there won't be a lot of roster changes in this offseason, but at least the Pats gave us a nice farewell this afternoon."
Bush’s ‘permanent campaign’
: The ‘war room’
is there, literally (in the case of the real war) and figuratively (in the case of all politics, all the time). The administration’s sanctimonious denials of a Clinton-like ‘permanent campaign’ are infuriating and laughable at the same time. Personally, Hub Blog believes the following: Bush is (and should be) haunted by what happened to his father in ‘92; Bush is quite cognizant of his narrow, controversial 2000 election; ‘permanent campaigns’ are probably a permanent feature of the American presidency, as one scholar argues in the article; Bush sees the gap between his high war-driven approval ratings and the still less-than-majority poll results when Americans are asked whether they’d vote for Bush if an election were held today. Bush knows he’s vulnerable. And he is.
Reader No. 1 responds
: “The Bush ‘Permanent Campaign’ article in today's Globe was pretty weak tea. We would all do better to admit politics is a profession and that we make our political decisions based on agreement with policies, and leave it at that.”
Hub Blog’s response
: Now that a Republican president is in office, it’s suddenly OK to run a ‘permanent campaign,’ which the Republicans harshly criticized the Clintonites for doing. In the item, I merely attempted to point out the sanctimonious double-standard and hypocrisy of the Republicans. I think I succeeded. And, yes, let’s leave it at that: permanent campaigns are a permanent feature of the American presidency -- as they have been since the birth of the Republic.
: Had a great holiday week. Family. Friends. Tons of nieces and nephews arguing and playing. The sound of “Uncle Jayzeeeeeee” still rings lovingly in my ears. Hope your holiday was as relaxing and pleasurable.
Anyway, Hub Blog will continue the off-and-on posting through the weekend and through next week’s New Year celebrations. For now, some items on pieces I’ve noticed over the past few days, some about Boston, others not:
: Cosmo Macero has redesigned his new blog site
. Has that classic, can't-beat-it Instapundit
look. And the posts are also interesting. Check it out. ... P.S. Looks like Cosmo is another disgruntled Pats blogger. I just can't blog on the Pats these days. It's too depressing.
The South Rises Again
: During one of many holiday cocktail gatherings attended by Hub Blog, the conversation turned to -- surprise! -- politics and the Trent Lott affair in particular. One of my friends, a fellow New Englander, bemoaned how Southerners, along with the occasional Californian, now dominate American politics. Though we disagreed on a lot of points, here's where we agreed: A.) The Lott affair was not an aberration, for there’s still a strong strain of Jeff Davis nostalgia coursing through Southern politics and the GOP in particular; B.) there is indeed a contradictory ‘new South’ with an enviable record of racial integration, as opposed to the slower rate of integration here in Boston; C.) there probably won't be another Massachusetts Democrat elected president again in our lifetime (not that there should be); and D.) we're blatantly jealous the South has critical political power and the fond memory of Robert E. Lee to shove in our Civil War trivia-buff faces. ... The next morning, I read this column in the Washington Post
and wondered if my friend’s more adamant Northern views indeed reflect a deep -- and possibly growing -- North-South-West Coast political realignment.
A few months back, there was some UN conference in South Africa, i.e. an opportunity to bash American capitalism and boo any American who dared speak in defense of our policies and principles. If I recall correctly, the idea of keeping Africa untouched by globalization was brought up by a pampered First World type -- you know, the familiar romanticizing of Africa’s pastoral poverty from a very, very safe distance, of course. But during all my recent travels through Africa, I rarely heard an African bemoan globalization. The exact opposite was the case. Again and again, I heard the refrain, mostly from West Africans, “When are the Americans coming? ... Why aren’t they investing in Africa? ... We need you to counterbalance the French.” ... I thought of all these things when I read this recent Tom Keane column
bashing the notion of ‘voluntary poverty,’ a truly offensive and elitist notion if there ever was one. ‘It's all so wrong-headed,’ writes Keane of the no-progress progressives.
Hate it, but love it
: Two great pieces -- the NYT version here
and the Globe version here
-- on the growing executive-office rivalry between the Sox and Yankees, now centering on Bartolo Colón and José Contreras. Read Anderson’s column to the very end, for the last line is depressing. You just know the Evil Empire isn’t going to let The Force nab Colón without a major intergalactic fight.
Romney, the manager
: Mitt is winning more praise
for his appointments and what they say, at this early stage, about his management style. Check out the link in the ‘The South Rises Again’ item above. It quickly addresses how the election of Mitt, a true moderate Republican compared with others in the GOP, fits into the North-South realignment argument.
Our Wilsonian Iraq policy
: H.W. Greenway on the perils of occupying Iraq
and insisting on democracy there when/if/after we invade. Excellent points. I think I’m not alone in my frustrations with the zigzagging Bush administration policies. They’ve blocked and/or dragged their feet on ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan but are now talking about, well, nation building in post-war Iraq. The contradictions are glaring. I definitely tilt in favor of the ‘nation building’ option in both nations, but I like to think I’m realistic about their outcomes. Greenway is injecting some much needed realism into the debate.
''This is the start of something fantastic''
: Oh, on this perfectly chilly Christmas Eve morning, Hub Blog could take swipes at Jane Swift
(she’s pointing fingers again); or guffaw at Shannon O’Brien’s post-election polling
of voters to determine why she lost (surprise! it was about taxes and Beacon Hill cronyism); or count the number of times James Carroll
uses the word ‘moral’ in his column, while denying he’s trying to come across as morally superior (reader alert: he’s writing about Vietnam again, with a happy Christmas peg). But, no, I shall, in the spirit of Christmas, blog about something very positive in Boston ...
... This truly is the start of something fantastic
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Unless something really big jumps out at me, Hub Blog is going to try to keep blogging light this holiday week (now watch the opposite occur, of course). Here’s some quickie items:
The Globe’s editorial board should win some sort of award. Seriously. They’ve struggled hard to keep the Big Dig ‘greenway’ question -- i.e, What’s going to replace the Central Artery after it’s torn down? -- alive and in the spotlight. Based on this editorial
, the Globe seems to be somewhat confident the city and state are on the right track. That’s good. But then I read this article
and had a hard time following who was doing what and why and under whose authority and deadline. Bottom line (I think): there are still too many entities pulling in different directions at different times.
‘The permanent bureaucracy’
: How screwed up is Boston’s civil service code? We now have the job of the city’s patronage chief, Richard Driscoll, protected for life by the city’s civil service laws
. And a bunch of other top-level, political appointees are also protected for life. The rationale? Well, they’ve been in office so long, they might as well have permanent protection.
... same day, same subject
, different paper, different era, different leaders.
Is the Lake Street Gang’s headquarters on the list?:
Bishop Lennon is sending signals the church is preparing to sell off property
in order to settle all the sex-abuse cases. Here’s hoping that the church’s gaudy, Imperial Rome mansion on Lake Street, where the gang plotted and covered up the criminal activities, is put on the real estate hit list. ... This article is fascinating for another reason: It shows the intricate legal maneuverings the church must take in order for insurance companies to cough up the dough. Question: Is it smart for the bishop to even acknowledge this 1st Amendment strategy in public? ... Eileen McNamara
is on to something in this column. Noticed the rift last night at a family holiday gathering, when an elder family member started bashing the Globe and said the paper wasn't going to stop until the church was destroyed. Younger family members collectively moaned with amusement and responded the story won't end as long as lists after lists of abuse cases keep coming out of Lake Street. I.e., There’s a clear generation rift, too.
Reader John responds
: "That was a great piece by McNamara. Definitely worth revisiting as this develops. As you know, there's a whole school out there of Catholics who have that chip on their shoulder. The Buchanan/Sobran types -- they read The Wanderer every week and love boosting the Latin Mass. (Of course, I like going to Latin mass once in a while, too --but it's not an ideology for me.) They also like griping about the National Catholic Reporter, the Jesuits and (in private) about the Jews and Hollywood." ... Hub Blog's response: I like going to Latin masses now and then, too, but not that
much. Boy, forgot all about Sobran. Talk about a name from the past.
‘Can’t hide a pretender’
: Bob Ryan
on the Pats. My sentiments exactly.
My suspicions were correct: Doug Foy’s appointment by Mitt signals an anti-sprawl (i.e. ‘smart growth’
) policy within the new administration. Being a big rail-transit fan, Hub Blog is excited, though one distantly fears a ‘smart growth’ campaign falling into the hands of anti-growth proponents down the road. ... Some other appointments by Mitt
, including the naming of Daniel Grabauskas as transportation czar. As noted before, Hub Blog, as would many others, would support a tax increase (on gasoline?) if it’s specifically pegged to repairing bridges, expanding public transportation and paying down the huge capital debts of various public works/transportation agencies. Those debts are choking off prospects for new projects. Needless to say, said agencies need to be reformed/streamlined first. They need it.
: Interesting article in the Times on Michael Bloomberg’s first year as mayor
there. Though I’m far away from the NY action, I haven’t been impressed by his performance. But others have -- and there’s a parallel to Mitt, perhaps, as Romney tries to reshape state government here. Good lead on the NYT story. And here’s a good quote: "People who spend a lot of time in the public sector can, over time, convince themselves that fundamental changes can't happen," said Bill de Blasio, a councilman from Brooklyn. "I think it is a virtue that he (Bloomberg) can look at things as a clean slate."
No, no, no
: I thought the Israel divestment issue had faded away. It hasn’t.
You know my view, as enunciated yesterday by Harvard spokesman Alan J. Stone: ''President Summers was clear in saying that Israeli policies should be rigorously challenged. He used the phrase `anti-Semitic in effect if not intent' to describe a range of actions from boycotts of Jewish scholars to pressure on universities to single out and ostracize Israel through divestment.'' ... ‘anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.’ Enough. Issue, issue, go away!
Brian Daubach, farewell:
Hub Blog always had a love/hate attitude towards Brian Daubach. Perhaps unfairly, he came to symbolize to me the overrated mediocrity of the Sox during the past two disappointing seasons. Then again, he always struck me as someone who just went out and did his job. Now I read his comments in this story
, and I’m sad he’s leaving. (My sadness will be short-lived if the Sox nab either Jose Contreras or Bartolo Colon.)
: Talked to a friend today about Brian Daubach, including my observation on the site about how he came across, at least to me, to represent the 'overrated mediocrity' of the club in general. He thought it was unfair to say that about Daubach, noting how difficult it is for some to hit them out at Fenway and how Daubach rarely complained about his constant shuffling within the lineup. My friend did expand, in great detail, how frustrating Daubach could be in his hot-and-cold streaks. Still, got to admit: BD was happy, and grateful, to have played in Boston. Not the best reason to keep a player, but not a bad reason to keep him either.
Massachusetts politics, Illinois politics
: My old stomping grounds
. Makes me wistful. Don't miss Illinois (except for Chicago). But I do miss its politics. FYI: I'm often asked: Is Illinois as corrupt as Massachusetts? My answer: They're about the same, though I think Illinois has an edge. Maybe it just seems that way because Illinois politicians tend to get caught more often (like, oh, their governors). ... P.S. When I'm asked 'Is Illinois as corrupt as Massachusetts,' my answer usually disappoints true Bostonians. They want to be No. 1. ... P.S. P.S. When was the last time a sitting Massachusetts governor was indicted while in office? James Michael Curely? Or was that after/before his term? Just asking. Throwing the question out for history buffs.
Mitt, winning praise
: Of course, it’s too early to overly praise or rate Mitt’s performance. No need to repeat the local follies of Pete Carroll and Rick Pitino, two heroes who rode into town amid high hopes, only to crap out in the end. But Mitt does deserve some praise
for his early moves, especially his appointments yesterday
. They reveal a number of things: A.) He’s serious about restructuring government. B.) He’s going to be serious about cracking down on patronage
(at least in the early days) and C.) He’s not afraid to surround himself with intelligent people. As for him being effective, well, that’s an entirely different matter. We’ll begin to see in a few weeks.
The Bulgers, still bitter
: So Billy’s son, Christopher, is now attacking U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch
, D-South Boston, in the local Southie press. You knew it would come to this -- the appeals to old tribal loyalties, blah, blah, blah. Naturally, Christopher made no mention of his uncle Whitey, the drugs that Whitey sold to Southie’s youth, the adult victims of Uncle Whitey’s reign of terror in Southie and across the city, the convicted ex-FBI agent from Southie who conspired with Uncle Whitey and who likely landed a cushy patronage job thanks to Daddy, the fact Daddy isn’t helping law enforcement to bring in his informant (i.e. disloyal rat fink) brother who has killed and is likely to kill again, the fact that Uncle 'That's right, I committed a crime' Jackie is in deep doo doo
with the feds, the fact Lynch beat Christopher’s brother in the race to fill Daddy’s seat partly because Southie residents were so fed up with the Bulger family’s antics, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. No, it’s all about ‘loyalty.’ Or is it ‘honest loyalty’?
Money Fitz (no relation):
This is such a small issue
, and I was tempted not to include it on Hub Blog today. Then I noticed the $80,000 salary Money Fitz will be getting as the House’s new sergeant-at-arms, i.e. a glorified doorman’s position, thanks to Tom Finneran. Then Howie proceeded to Fisk Fitz, and so I couldn’t resist.
Universal health care and ‘single-payer’
: A consulting group is about to wrap up its legislative-mandated duties and probably recommend a new universal health-care system
for Massachusetts. Specifically, it will probably (or so it seems) recommend a ‘single-payer system,’ which is a euphemism to hide the unpleasant fact that they’re advocating a ‘government-run’ health care system. Listen, I’m in favor of universal health care. But I think it should be as private and decentralized as possible. There should be choice not only of doctors, but of different types of plans, similar to the federal government’s health-care system for fed employees. Competition is key. Do we really have to rehash that fundamental economic point? Again: Competition is key. But, no, it always comes back to that magic-wand approach: Government-run ‘single payer.’ Think about it: Government run. In Massachusetts. And think about this quote: ''A single-payer entity would have the power to dictate our reimbursement rates, and that would drive physicians out of state and result in an erosion of the health care system,'' said Dr. Charles Welch, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Exactly. ... This plan won’t pass, of course. But it’s just so
discouraging to favor universal health care and then have these same idiots -- stuck in their Great Society mindsets, drawing pretty agency flow charts on paper and thinking it has something to do with reality -- advocate again and again and again the same old, tired approaches.
Mitch Kapor is back
: Mitch Kapor, of local Lotus fame, is gunning after Microsoft
, with the idea of distributing a free open-source program that will outdo Microsoft Outlook. Good luck, Mitch.
Mitt’s latest moves
: Holy cow. There he goes again. Doing things he's not supposed to do, such as making some inspired choices.
Doug Foy, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, has been named to the new post of chief of commonwealth development. Foy is tough, pragmatic and effective. What a fascinating choice. (And one that may come back to haunt Mitt because Foy marches to the beat of his own drum, in an admirable way. Quickie observation: I think Mitt is quite serious about anti-sprawl suburban development.) Meanwhile, former Fidelity vice chairman Robert Pozen has been tapped for the new post of chief of commerce and labor. And in an apparent slap at the Swift administration for the way it’s been handing out judgeships to cronies (see “Swift, begone” item below), Ralph Martin will become chairman of the Judicial Nominating Council. ... Now, if only Mitt would sign an anti-patronage executive order bringing the Commonwealth into compliance with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Rutan
The antiwar movement, Part II
: First, there was this critical piece
(and later Hub Blog item
) on the antiwar movement, as seen through the eyes of an antiwar writer. Now Ellen Goodman
is also taking shots at the movement, for roughly the same reasons. Ellen: “Earlier this month, when an old activist friend wandered over to one of the rallies pegged to International Human Rights Day, he felt like a reverse Rip Van Winkle. He'd changed, but the scene had stayed the same. Some of the slogans seemed like verbal uniforms taken out of mothballs: ‘Drop food, not bombs.’ ‘Hell no, we won't go. We won't fight for Texaco.’ ... Todd Gitlin, historian of the '60s, has seen this as well. ‘The silent majority of antiwar sentiment hasn't found its style or form. That's a serious obstacle,’ he says. ‘We in the 1960s would have looked stupid if we were mouthing the rhetoric of the 1930s. Why is it smart to sound like 1967?’ ''
Indeed, the problem with today’s antiwar movement is its sentimental '60s nostalgia. The same slogans. The same clothes. The same signs. It’s too often about well-educated, well-off protesters making statements about themselves
and to themselves
about how virtuous they are. How can you respect such ossified, self-centered thinking? You can’t. But Goodman has another good point: Poll after poll shows a deep uneasiness among Americans about the coming war with Iraq. OK, some polls show strong support one day, others show lukewarm support the next. Combine all the polls together, though, and you get a clear picture that Americans aren’t so clear about what to do with Iraq.
Connecting Law and Bulger
: It’s mighty tempting to draw parallels between Cardinal Law and Billy Bulger, just as some have drawn parallels between, say, the recent fall of Law and the probable fall of Trent Lott. Obviously, the mighty are falling in droves these days, from Henry Kissinger to disgraced CEOs. Hub Blog is certainly no fan of the cardinal and Billy. But I’m not so sure about the Law-Bulger parallel that Peter Gelzinis
writes about today. It seems a stretch, though I understand the general logic and ironic timing.
: Amid all the recent news about elections, wars, pervert priests, embattled local pols, etc., Jane Swift, a product of the Beacon Hill establishment if there ever was one, has been quietly, relentlessly engaging in a gaudy, lame-duck orgy of old-fashioned Massachusetts hackeroma. This is just her latest caper
. (Boy, do hacks love those court jobs
.) Can you imagine what it would have been like if Shannon O’Brien had become governor? Forget all the election-time talk about how the state needed a woman in the corner office to reform the old-boys network. We already have one in the damn office and behold what she’s doing.
The death penalty, by the numbers
: Hub Blog goes back and forth on the death penalty issue. A few years ago, I was all for it. Today, I’m not, largely because of proven, monumental screw-ups by the legal system that put innocent men on death row. No matter what your position is on the death penalty, this column by Jeff Jacoby
strikes me as cold, almost sick, in its body-count method of argument.
‘I love a good Christmas party’
: Steve Bailey said that. Find out why
. (Hint: Lots of dirt and scoops can be found at a Christmas party. ... Did Don Law and Patrick Lyons really sign off on the Mass Turnpike project? Interesting. And it could mean more housing if true.)
`That's right, I committed a crime’
: And those are the words of John ‘Jackie’ Bulger
, the guy the Billy Bulger PR machine is nominating as Candidate No. 1 in the persecuted sainthood category. Read the article. Closely. The perjury charges are the least of his worries. Loved this line in particular about poor Jackie: “At the time he testified, John Bulger was a clerk magistrate in Suffolk Superior Court.” And so ...
... and so take it away Howie
. Notice all the Bulger connections. Ah, yes, it’s just a humble little family with one bad apple embarrassing them all. Those poor, poor Bulgers. They’re being persecuted. Persecuted!
‘A most hearty `welcome back' '
: And those are the words of our very own Cardinal Law, emeritus, to an accused sex-abuser upon his return to the Lake Street Gang. Just when you thought you couldn’t be shocked by new allegations, check this one out:
“One priest, the Rev. Gerard E. Creighton, was transferred 20 times in 28 years amid a cascade of complaints from numerous pastors and even an assertion that he had ‘homicidal tendencies.’ One parishioner withdrew a sexual misconduct complaint after learning that Creighton carried a gun.
“‘We're especially afraid of what he might do to the children,’ the parishioner said in a 1977 phone call to chancery officials that was reported to Bishop Thomas V. Daily, now the bishop of the Brooklyn, N.Y., diocese.
“The parishioner had previously called to alert church leaders that she had seen two young girls reenacting a sexual act. When she questioned the girls they replied: 'This is the way Father Creighton and their mother make love.' ”
... Eileen McNamara
is comparing Cardinal Law, emeritus, to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.
Politics, local and national
: Scot Lehigh
has an interesting piece on Gore’s decision not to run in 2004 -- and the ramifications for John Kerry. New Hampshire is crucial to Kerry, Lehigh notes. ‘That’s obvious,’ you might be thinking. But think about this observation from Lehigh: There are now three New Englanders vying (or soon to be vying) for the Dem nomination, all of them Yalies, by the way. Kerry still has the edge in the Granite State, but ... OK, one or two people have asked why I haven’t blogged on Byron Rushing’s challenge to Tom Finneran’s leadership in the House. Answer: Because Byron’s challenge is a joke. It’s going nowhere, though I agree with the Globe
that it’s at least a somewhat noble gesture. ... Joe Fitzgerald
. What can I say.
Another Boston blogger
: Boston Herald business columnist Cosmo Macero
has started up his own web site and blog. Congrats! ... Reader No. 1 and Hub Blog have often theorized who, within the mainstream press of Boston, would make good bloggers. If I recall correctly, one of our candidates was Cosmo. We also nominated Brian McGrory, Scot Lehigh and, of all people, Alex Beam, who once wrote a silly anti-blogging piece. I’m beginning to think Eileen McNamara might be a good candidate, too. ...
: Dan Kennedy
has an interesting observation on Cosmo starting his own blog -- and the potential danger involved for full-time newspaper staffers. Excellent point. Forgot all about the Houston Chronicle affair. Then again, James Lileks
, one of the web's most popular bloggers, is also a newspaper columnist (and a syndicated columnist whose pieces are run by, among others, the Herald). And Herald columnists Howie Carr and Margery Eagan, while not having their own blogs, do have their own radio gigs outside their regular Herald duties. Columnists are usually given a little more leeway on these things -- and they should be given more leeway. If the Herald was smart, it would ask to attach/default Cosmo's blog to their own site for the extra value, allowing him to keep the 'cosmomacero.com' address, sort of like Mickey Kaus
keeping his old 'kausfiles.com' address while still blogging away for Slate. So, blog away, Cosmo. ... P.S.P.S. FYI: The Globe's Boston.com has been busy exploring blogging opportunities itself. Instapundit
had an item on the tentative Boston.com venture this past fall, but I can't seem to find the link. If I do, I'll post it later.
Law and the sadness
: Cardinal Law. What can you say. His “news conference”
yesterday said little, answered little, added little. It was almost entirely about “me,” it seemed, with obligatory nods to the victims and laity. Go away, cardinal. Go far, far away. ... And here’s a far, far more interesting insight into the scandal provided this morning by James Carroll
, who Hub Blog rarely agrees with. But read this column. It’s profoundly sad, depressing and true. Every paragraph packs a punch. The one that jumped out at me: “Sexual perversion. Power madness. Indifference to civil law. Endemic dishonesty. The narrow claim to theological infallibility as a virus of arrogance. Far more than the failure of Cardinal Law, you have beheld the emptiness of the thing you thought was sacred. Holy Mother the Church: Her worst enemies called her a prostitute, and now you see why.” Ugh. Read it. ... Ah, more lists of abusers
, coming out now like widgets on a conveyor belt.
They’re going to tag Kerry with a ‘Massachusetts liberal’ label?:
The Herald has a funny (and obvious) story
about how the GOP is already digging up the dirt on poor JFK II. ``It may be an unfair stereotype, but it's harder for a Democrat from Massachusetts to win nationally,'' said GOP strategist Ronald Kaufman. ``It doesn't hurt in the Democratic primary, which is dominated by liberals anyway. But the liberal thing is hard to get over in the general election. It can be a killer.'' ... And, despite my respect for Kerry’s formidable skills as a campaigner, it probably will be a killer. I’ve been in denial about it until now. Take it away, John Ellis
Speaking of John Ellis ...
: John Ellis has announced a new policy/format
for his weblog -- he’s going to post one item, each day, that’s it. Can’t blame him. We’re not getting paid for this. And he has pressing (paid) business to do. However, I’m a huge fan of John’s site, so I hope he makes some exceptions to his new rule, sort of like getting around campaign finance laws. Maybe he can call it the occasional “1.5 Times Per Day” loophole rule. Or the “Average of 1 Per Day” rule -- and stack ‘em up all on one glorious day.
More housing, good deal
: A compromise has been reached on the 28-story Liberty Place
apartment project -- and so it appears more than 400 housing units will be built near Chinatown. Think about it: Four-hundred units. The deal doesn’t cover another controversial apartment project for the same area, but it bodes well for the project and the city.
Urban Ring, explained (sort of):
Thanks to Brighton reader for sending this link
(and this map
) about the proposed Urban Ring transit system for the city. Very interesting. Some of my questions have been answered
. ... Now: How about a Metro Ring, i.e. a rail system that runs along 128 or 495? They once said building Route128 was impossible, not to mention a farce. “The Road to Nowhere,” as they once described Route 128 while it was being constructed. We now know better. A rail system mimicking 128 or 495 would be just as logical and popular.
How low can you get?:
Just noticed this commercial real estate story
over at the Boston Business Journal. I remember when, not so long ago, asking prices were in the absurd $100-per-square-foot range in the downtown and Back Bay. No matter how you look at it, we have a long, long way to go before the economy rebounds around here.
Some quick posts ..:
Some posts on Kerry and our new Bishop Lennon, then I have to go. Besides, nothing else really jumped out at me this morning. Here goes:
John Kerry, front-runner?:
Count me among those who were surprised by Al Gore’s decision not to run in 2004. The nomination was probably his for the taking. But it sounds like his decision came from the gut for a change, not from polls. Clearly, this helps our very own JFK. John Ellis
has probably the best early analysis -- and it sure looks like Republicans are eager for Kerry to win the nomination. They may be right, for Kerry has so much baggage (Massachusetts liberal image, lieutenant governor to Mike Dukakis, the haircut, the ‘JFK’ initials, the association with Ted Kennedy
etc.) and a calculating personality that turns so many off. But Republicans may also be in for a bigger surprise than they bargained for if Kerry wins the nomination. ... I’d like to see other Dems enter the race. Not impressed with the current crop. Not at all.
Bishop Lennon, unimpressive
: He did all the right things, barely
. He seemed to stop right at the minimum that was required. He missed a clear chance to make a break from Law, sort of like Gerald Ford declaring, “Our long national nightmare is over. The constitution works ...” And think: Lennon couldn’t screw up such a bold statement by pardoning Law. ... And so skepticism still reigns