Corporate Owners Shrink New Bedford Standard-Times, Literally This Time

NewBedfordStandardTimesMy local New Bedford Standard-Times has been shrinking for years, laying off roughly half about half of its newsroom staff since 2005, and now it’s again shrinking physically. I woke up a month ago to find my morning paper had lost an inch off each side, with a note inside helpfully informing subscribers the paper is becoming “more compact.” Even the smaller size didn’t help spread out the woefully thin news coverage – just 3 pages worth.

As the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto has documented, GateHouse Media has been conducting an experiment with its nine Massachusetts daily newspapers: How small can it shrink the journalism staff while still getting readers to pay for it?

“They are finding that even in 2015, there can be lots of efficiencies in these enterprises, which is somewhat surprising given that we’ve had cutting for seven or eight years now,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst who runs the Newsonomics blog.

But some say it’s not just jobs that are being lost.

“You get this homogenization effect,” said Thomas Caywood, a reporter who left the T&G post-acquisition after his request for a modest pay raise was denied. “Yes, it’s more efficient to have this design center in Austin. But I think you lose some of the regional individuality. GateHouse is to journalism like what Olive Garden is to Italian food.”

GateHouse and corporate owners like it aren’t fooling anyone: Print circulation has fallen in lockstep with layoffs. GateHouse bought the Providence Journal from Belo, which as Dean Starkman reported, had laid off newsroom staffers not because it couldn’t afford them but to free up cash for huge executive bonuses. GateHouse, of course, immediately laid off even more newsroom staff.

We’re often told that newspaper circulation decline is inevitable due to the rise of the internet and the KIDS TODAY (yells at cloud). But how much circulation decline is baked in, and how much is driven by corporate owners only focused on immediate profit over building a long-term product?

Here’s one example. NewBedfordGuide.com has over 53,000 Facebook likes, while the Standard-Times has barely over 7,000. How did they let a tiny startup drink their milkshake? How much in long-term profit was lost?

Again, the long-term opportunities are there, but they take a back-seat to short-term profit, if they’re allowed to ride along at all. Today’s Wall Street newspaper overlords are in this game to wring out every drop of profit they can, and if the layoff-profit merry-go-round ever shows signs of stopping, they’ll burn down the newspapers in bankruptcy, write off the ashes, and leave us to count up the damage to our communities.

Boston 2024: If You Like the Marathon, Ipso Facto You Want the Olympics

Looks like the Boston 2024 folks are going to be swarming the Boston Marathon on Monday. They’ll be trying to create the impression that any fan of the Marathon also supports Boston 2024′s bid to host the Olympics nine years hence.

And as today’s Globe reports, Boston 2024 has some Marathon-related news that it’s hoping will jump-start their flagging campaign: the winner of last year’s men’s race thinks that it would be a swell idea for Boston to host the Olympics. Boston 2024 COO Erin Murphy gushes at the endorsement:

Meb is universally loved and respected for his achievements and we are so honored to have him be part of this,” Murphy said. The Eritrea-born runner who became a US citizen is so well known, Murphy said, “he’s like Madonna and Cher — he doesn’t even need a last name.”

For those of you who don’t want to be seen as so out of touch that you don’t know Meb’s last name, it’s Keflezighi, and here are his comments in support of Boston 2024:

You need unity of the community, unity of the city, in order to make it happen,” he said. “Somebody will be happy, somebody will be upset, and obviously it cannot satisfy everybody but hopefully we can meet halfway, with commitment and sacrifice in a common goal to make it a reality. Not just for Boston, for America.”

Meb’s hometown is San Diego, so maybe what he means by “meeting halfway” is that the 2024 Olympics will be held in Topeka.

*****

In other Olympics news, the state House of Representatives will soon be debating the budget for the coming fiscal year. In light of the IOC’s practice of requiring that all city transport, airport and billboard advertising be under their control for the duration of the games, some Representatives are concerned that this demand might harm ad revenues that go to the MBTA, Massport and other state agencies with outdoor advertising space. So they have filed an amendment to the budget requiring that Boston 2024 pay market rates for any advertising space it commandeers.

Here is more information on the amendment. There’s still time before the budget debate begins on April 27 for you to ask your State Representative to sign on as a co-sponsor.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that the Olympics will be paid for by private money, so maybe the Boston 2024 folks will also be chatting up this budget amendment when they descend on the Marathon on Monday.

(Cross-posted at hesterprynne.net.)

Bob DeLeo guarantees that the legislature's joint committee structure will end this year

This is a couple of days old, but still worth noting.  As you may recall, there’s an ongoing dispute between the House and Senate regarding the joint committee structure, in which most legislation is vetted via committees composed of both House and Senate members.  However, because there are more members of the House than the Senate, the committees are lopsided, and in effect give the House total control over whether or not legislation advances out of the committees.  This is a bad system that, frankly, should have been changed years ago (only a couple of other states still use it), as I’ve already discussed.

Well, House Speaker Bob DeLeo – obviously the current system’s primary beneficiary – decided that the best way forward was to author a Boston Globe op-ed pretty much trashing the Senate.  In DeLeo’s view, the Senate’s desire to have equal ability to bring legislation to the floor is “ill-advised, disruptive, and would be detrimental to the public interest,” and also “an impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem and is a significant distraction at a time when the Commonwealth is at a critical juncture.”  It goes on to offer a bunch of arguments in favor of the current system that are so weak as not to merit refuting.  One Globe commenter got it right: “The guy who has used the current rules to claw his way to the top of the pile, and whose power is founded on those rules tells me everything is fine and we should leave the rules just as they are. Sure, why shouldn’t I believe him?”

Not surprisingly, DeLeo’s stink-bomb went over poorly in the Senate, which promptly voted 39-0 to move forward with plans to establish separate Senate committees for reviewing legislation.  Commonwealth Magazine reports that “[o]ne senator said following the vote that the harsh tone of DeLeo’s op-ed pushed some senators who had been ambivalent about exercising the so-called ‘nuclear’ option to support today’s move toward establishing separate committees.”  That reaction was about as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

DeLeo’s frankly childish op-ed is probably a good thing in the long run.  It guaranteed that the Senate will move forward on a separate committee structure that will give it more say in moving legislation forward.  And since the Senate is at the moment the far more progressive branch of the legislature, that’s good news as far as I’m concerned.

A carbon fee/dividend for MA

Sen. Michael Barrett has introduced a carbon fee+dividend bill. The intent is to put a price on carbon, and then immediately plow it back into household incomes in the form of a dividend from the state. This will put an economic “signal” on fossil fuels, discouraging their use, thereby encouraging conservation and clean energy — without diminishing people’s actual buying power. The bill is revenue-neutral: The only money the state keeps is that which is necessary to administer the program.

Where this has been tried, the economy has not suffered. Just the opposite, in British Columbia:

The British Columbia tax started at $10 per ton of carbon dioxide and rose $5 a year until it peaked out at $30 a ton. British Columbia officials said the tax works out to about 24 cents on a gallon of gasoline.

In British Columbia’s 2014-15 budget, officials said the carbon tax raised $1.2 billion, all of which went back to residents in the form of lower corporate and income tax rates and cash payments targeted at low-income people. The officials said a family of four earning less than $38,000 a year would receive a check for $300.

Michael Bernier, the parliamentary secretary for energy in British Columbia, said his province’s carbon tax has proven that government can tax carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions without harming the economy. He said fuel use is down 16 percent in British Columbia since the carbon tax was imposed (fuel use is up 3 percent across Canada, he said) while the province’s gross domestic product is up 9.2 percent. “You can have both,” Bernier said.

via British Columbia officials say carbon tax is working – CommonWealth Magazine.

This mirrors the local economic effect of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has boosted the regional economy and created jobs.

Fossil-fuel-poor Massachusetts might be one of the best places to implement this. Money that we spend on fossil fuels is whisked out of the state, whereas energy conserved keeps money in your pocket. And clean energy tends to be local energy — so local it might be on your roof.

Possible concerns include regional equity, and whether the fee is progressive, and the already high cost of energy in this region. Barrett’s bill does stipulate that residents of designated “rural areas” — those presumably more dependent on gasoline — would receive a 30% higher dividend. And I would like to see attention paid to insulating (hah) lower income residents from the effects of the fee.

Massachusetts already has high energy prices, being at the end of gas pipelines. But building more gas pipeline capacity is like treating a heroin addiction with a bigger needle, compromising our ability to move off of fossil fuels. Again, if the fee boosts conservation and renewables, in the long run it would make local energy abundant, bringing down energy prices.

Finally one might wonder how little Massachusetts, possessing only 6.5 million people, can affect global warming. Of course, we can’t control it in isolation; but we are not alone. If the new EPA rules stand, many states will move into carbon markets like RGGI. California (pop. 38.8M) out of necessity has become an efficiency leader. Germany created demand for the international renewables market simply by force of political will. We’re not alone, not by any stretch.

Stopping an irreversible climate catastrophe requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. The carbon-fee is one thing that we can do, that happens to strengthen the local economy as well.

It's Time To Push Hard On Surveillance Reform

The part of the PATRIOT Act that has been used to legitimate the mass collection of all of our phone call information, and much else besides, is a wicked awful provision known as “Section 215.” Section 215 allows the FBI – and, it appears, other intelligence agencies too – to collect “any tangible things” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. As it turns out, the intelligence community has argued explicitly that every single call in the United States is “relevant”. So, it appears, if we don’t let the NSA know exactly when I called the Danish Pastry House in Watertown about my one-year-old daughter’s first birthday cake, then ISIS will destroy us all.

Section 215 is also set to sunset on June 1, even though lawmakers have no information on how it’s been used for the last six years.

The intelligence community has gone to Full Fearmonger over this. We hear from lawmakers that, in closed-door sessions, they are literally waving pictures of the burning Twin Towers at our elected officials, and telling them that if Section 215 lapses and there’s another attack, the lawmakers will be responsible for it.

Seriously. That’s what they’re arguing. This is beyond stupid.

There’s actually no evidence that Section 215′s mass surveillance programs have ever stopped a terrorist attack. The best the intelligence community has come up with is that Section 215 may have stopped a San Diego taxi driver, Basaaly Moalin, from wiring $8,500 to al-Shabaab, the East African fundamentalist group. Even there, the point sort of gets lost that he was wiring the money to al-Shabaab fighters in his hometown so that they could fend off a US-supported invasion of the area by the Ethiopian army, but whatever. Al-Shabaab are not good people; but is depriving them of $8,500 really an acceptable trade for allowing the government to have all of our phone call data, for ever?

I agree 100% with Elizabeth Warren on this

Sen Warren periodically pops up and decries Wall Street, Big Banks, Credit Card Companies, etc. Sometimes I’m with her, sometimes I’m not. Periodically though she is on the backs (modern phrase: “up in the grill”) of regulators in the financial industries. When she is, I am the biggest fan. As I am involved in a financial compliance function, I know what my own company must do to follow the rules. Why financial services companies don’t have to do this, is beyond me.

Here’s a link to her latest:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/15/elizabeth-warren-wall-street_n_7073040.html

 

I understand the DOJ has gotten billions in fines from various Wall Street and others. That’s not the point. For many companies fines and penalties are just a cost of doing business. In the nation’s money capital, the motto is probably “so fine us- we’ll just make more.”  Note: these fines are usually against the corporation. It’s only when you really put personal hardship on an individual (including making an example of him) that other individuals will ignore their greedy impulsive and behave as proper participants in our economy. The SEC used to pursue this path against company CFO’s. Basically boot them out, take all their money and make them permanently unemployed. Other CFO’s though twice before any monkey business.

Why have the regulators been slacking? I watched one Warren grilling and they have no  answer- they just hang their heads. I”m sure a long Atlantic article or something could get to the bottom (starting with the revolving door). What doesn’t matter is why, the question is why doesn’t anyone care in this administration? Is it really the Republicans fault, when:

The President has appointed the entire SEC.

The DOJ is an Executive branch.

The President has appointed the entire Fed.

That’s all the regulators. Again, sure they’ve gotten a lot of money out of the offending entities. Anyone think they’ve learned their lesson and won’t do it in the future?

I fully expected in 2009 to see some perp walks. I know they’ve had trouble figuring out how to convict people (your average juror probably can’t figure out interest on a credit card, let alone listen to detailed financial dealings), but I don’t care. Figure out a way. It’s important to our economy. The financial services companies have the most money and top to bottom the smartest people. They are working to bend the rules every day (anyone think high frequency trading is okay?). They have to be countered.

"A State Government That Gets Out Of The Way"

In his campaign for Governor last year, Charlie Baker promised us “a state government that gets out of the way.” And it seems that’s what we are getting.

Right after taking office, Governor Baker announced that one of the ways that state government would be getting out of the way was by not issuing any new regulations for some time. A “regulatory pause” by Executive branch agencies would “enable the administration to implement new guidance that regulations going forward communicate a clear, desired and effective goal.”

This pause was not a surprise. You might say that the notion that regulations are somehow adverse to good government started with Charlie Baker, the Secretary of Administration and Finance as well as the “heart and soul” of the Weld administration. Governor Weld issued the first executive order requiring agencies to pare down their regulations in 1996 (“WHEREAS, the inefficiencies and intrusions resulting from excessive government regulation constitute an unreasonable financial and personal burden on residents of the Commonwealth”). Since then, it has become fashionable in Massachusetts for our governors to begin their terms in office with a similar reproof of the idea that government ought to be in the business of regulating business, as Mitt Romney did in 2003 and Deval Patrick did in 2007.

The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council offers model legislation for states to trim their inventory of regulations. And our state Legislature got in on the act in 2010, prohibiting agencies from putting out new regulations until they had thoroughly analyzed the potential effect on small business and requiring all agencies to review the need for all of their regulations every 12 years.

Which brings us to Sunday’s Globe article on Baker’s further pursuit of regulatory cutbacks in a new Executive Order. The moratorium on new regulations he announced in January is to continue until further notice. And there’s lots more. Baker has often likened government regulations to the junk that accumulates in your basement and which, in the interests of good housekeeping, you need to clean out every so often (as the Legislature had already concluded in mandating a top-to-bottom review every twelve years). The Executive branch agencies are going to be very busy making sure that every state regulation passes a lengthy series of tests before it may continue to be in effect. The most controversial of these tests is that no regulation may exceed what the federal government requires:

Baker, in a March 31 directive to all state agencies, is requiring a yearlong review of nearly all state regulations, with a mandate that none should exceed federal requirements, which in many cases are far less stringent than the state’s. He wants only regulations that do not “unduly and adversely affect Massachusetts citizens and customers of the Commonwealth.”

This apparently means that if the federal government is not ready to say that the chemical perchlorate, a persistent, inorganic anion found in industrial pollutants that interferes with thyroid function if ingested in significant quantity, is unsafe, then Massachusetts will stop saying it is unsafe and will rescind the current regulation (in place since the Romney administration) capping the amount of perchlorate that safe drinking water may contain. The people of Massachusetts, especially those living in the towns where perchlorate has been found in the drinking water will be on their own, happily unburdened by excessive regulation.

BREAKING: Amendment to delay Earned Sick Leave in front of State Senate today.

BREAKING: Unexpected vote today. An amendment has been slipped onto an unrelated bill to delay the implementation of Earned Sick Leave by a year from July 1 of this year to July 1, 2016. Can you make a quick call to your state senator and ask them to vote against the amendment?  Note that Mass voters approved this via ballot by 59.4% last year. Why the holdup?

This could be your #ONEBoston (do something nice) thing today. If you don’t know the name/number of your senator:

http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx   It’s amendment #19 on S-44.

Thank you.

Elizabeth Warren Needs to Give Seth Moulton a Talking-To for His Votes Yesterday

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed two bills to weaken Dodd-Frank, undercut mortgage protections, and open the door to higher fees on borrowers.

The two bills were H.R. 650 “Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act” and H.R. 685 “The Mortgage Choice Act of 2015.”

Americans for Financial Reform wrote to Congress last week opposing these two bills:

H.R. 650, the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act of 2015, would make homeownership more costly for those who can least afford it. It would do this by raising the interest rate and points and fees trigger for protections under the high-cost mortgage protections of HOEPA for manufactured housing loans. This bill would not expand access to sustainable credit, but would strip away protections already created by Congress and implemented by the CFPB. If this bill became law it would permit an interest rate of close to 14% in today’s market for a 15- or 20-year loan on a family’s home mortgage without enhanced protections. In comparison, the going rate for traditional real-estate mortgages is currently around 4%.

H.R. 685, the Mortgage Choice Act of 2015, would reintroduce some of the high fees that borrowers faced in the lead up to the mortgage crisis, fees that the new mortgage rules were designed to prevent. It would create a loophole to the 3% points and fees threshold in the Qualified Mortgage (mortgage affordability) rules by excluding fees paid to title insurance companies affiliated with the lender. Increased loan fees would lead to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in needless mortgage fee expenses for each borrower on such loans, and encourage further price gouging in an already broken title insurance market.

Obama has already said that he plans to veto both bills if they reach his desk (here and here).

Yesterday morning, Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to criticize the bills as signs of a failure to learn from the financial crisis:

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/588009475505844224

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/588009585774096386

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/588009679944601600

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/588009844076105730

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/588010047503998976

 

The “Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act” passed 263 to 162. 22 Democrats joined the Republicans here.

The “Mortgage Choice Act of 2015″ passed 286 to 140. 45 Democrats joined the Republicans here.

8 out of the 9 members of the MA House delegation heeded Americans for Financial Reform, Senator Warren, and President Obama and voted against both bill. But one–Seth Moulton (MA-06)–took the opposite route, voting for both. If you live in his district, you should give him a call.

Looking at the future of the Boston Olympics from the 5th Floor of Government Center.

Bob, Sabutai, Hysterprynne and I sat down with Mayor Walsh and his Chief of Policy/fellow BMGer, Joyce Linehan, today.

It was actually pretty great timing for me. I had been working on a post about the Olympics a couple weeks ago, just before I was told about the meeting, and it just so happened to be on what it would take for Boston 2024 to have any hopes of getting the 50%+1 of the voting population it needs to catch Olympic fever.

I thought it was a tall order then and, in truth, I still think it is now, but I feel pretty reassured about my original points — to the point where I can see a path, even if it’s a narrow one. I think Mayor Walsh gets most of them, even if Boston 2024 still has plenty of room to improve.

So, if Boston 2024 wants to have any chance of a Bean Town Olympics going forward, here’s a list of some of the things it should strongly consider.

1. Be competent. Unlike the Chicagos and Detroits of the world, Boston has by and large been an extremely well managed city — so that’s the good news. We’re a city that cares about creating jobs and maintaining our AAA bond rating — and because we’ve had our share of steady hands and forward-thinking individuals (including many on the 5th Floor of Government Center), we’ve neither been afraid to reinvent ourselves nor lacked the resources to do it.

That’s the reason why Boston has been able to pivot along with the economy, and that’s the reason — the only reason — why we’re even in the conversation for having the Olympics today.

I say all this because while I think Boston 2024 has stumbled out of the gates — to put it mildly — the city is competent, so there’s hope… depending on who really runs this thing.

If Boston 2024, the USOC and the IOC is running the show, I’m going to have my worries. But, if the city of Boston takes charge, tells the IOC that this is going to be run the way we like it or not at all — and sticks to our guns — then it is possible, however unlikely, that a sensible Olympics could actually happen. I mean, we’re talking about hitting bullseye shooting at womprats on our T-16s here, but it could be done.

2. We have to make this bid about being different. Like, that should be the whole freaking theme of the bid. It should be our entire messaging — both to the IOC and the public.

We have a pretty good history with that, from reinventing our economy to that whole starting-the-American-Revolution thing to turning the Back Bay into a land mass and carving tunnels so we could have parks and see the sky — so let’s be different now.

What this really means is we need to send the IOC a final bid that challenges all the Olympic Conventions of the past 15-20 years, of overspending, massive corruption, gross incompetence and excessive parties for the .01%, along with all the huge cost overruns that come with that.

We need to send the IOC a bid that we’re entirely happy with — and let the IOC know that if it continues down their dangerous path of awarding those who finish first in a race to the bottom, they’re going to have no where else to go but dictatorships and hack governments to host in the near future. That’s a path paved with a few glimmering games toward the slow march of death of the modern Olympic movement.

Our bid needs to loudly, clearly say that to the IOC — rebuking its past practices — and send a message that the games should be about the Olympic spirit and not who can build the most ostentatious pool.

That may mean we won’t win the Olympic bid in the end, but if that’s the case, oh well.

3. We have to make the bid process inclusive. If there’s a sense that the elites of the elites have been in control of this thing every step of the way, and haven’t deigned it worth their time to consult us plebes on any of the decisions, that’s because it’s true — and whatever efforts are underway to change that aren’t working.

If Boston is going to host the Olympics, Boston has to host the Olympics. Not Suffolk Construction, Harvard University or the State Street Bank.

It’s time to have fewer CEOs and VPs on the bid committee and a lot more representatives from neighborhood organizations, with deep Boston roots and who care about what happens before, during and after any Boston Olympics. We should not only allow concerned citizens to ask questions at forums, but invite many of them into the planning committees for everything from venues to security to transportation.

Small businesses need to be reassured that they won’t be locked out of their own city for the length of the Olympics or worried that they’ll be sued if they sell Olympic-themed cookies at their bakery.

Invest neighborhood groups, concerned citizens and small businesses in the process, let them use their on-the-ground expertise and understanding of the city to help make this a better bid, one that benefits all, and then they’ll have something to care about, because this will be their games and not John Fish’s.

4. Lots of officials are saying this won’t cost anything like Sochi or Beijing or even London, so let’s put that in writing. There’s been plenty of talk about taking out an insurance policy to cover us for any cost overruns, but I’m having a hard time seeing any insurance company want to take that bet when even London’s costs spiraled by a factor of 2-3.

We, the People, are not going to pay billions of dollars for this game, period. How we put that in writing doesn’t much matter, as long as its ironclad and protects us in the here and now, as well as future generations of Bostonians and Bay Staters to come.

 

 

If those four things happen, there’s an actual chance that the public could be convinced, and that Boston could throw a nice party at a reasonable cost.

But it’s going to be a long, difficult road to get there. I have my doubts, but I’m willing to be proved wrong.

 

RFK Jr. loses the plot (Which is: Vaccines save lives)

It’s common sense that parents should be required to inoculate their children: as logical as “I don’t want polio, a scourge of America’s past, to paralyze countless children,” and “Newborns should not die preventable deaths from measles, as millions used to do annually.” But as proof that dangerous delusions can afflict heroes of the left as surely as neocons, observe Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologizing today for comparing children with autism to the Holocaust. Guardian:

Robert Kennedy Jr apologized on Monday for describing the growing number of children identified with autism, which he links to the use of vaccines, as “a Holocaust”.

Kennedy, the nephew of President John F Kennedy and son of his murdered brother Robert Kennedy, is campaigning against a bill introduced in California that seeks to stop parents opting out of having their children inoculated against diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

When he addressed the audience at a screening of a documentary on the subject, Trace Amounts, in Sacramento last week, the high-profile vaccine skeptic made remarks that set off a firestorm of protest.

Kennedy said that pharmaceutical companies and the government could not be trusted over the ingredients in vaccines and added of children that he claims get sick as a result of having their jabs: “They get the shot, that night they have a fever of 103 [degrees], they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone. This is a Holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

As the newspaper explains:

The bill introduced in California would prevent parents opting out of vaccines for their children for personal or religious choices. The legislation was introduced after an outbreak of measles that started at the Disneyland theme park in the state late last year infected 100 people and was blamed on falling vaccination rates.

If only there were a vaccine against irresponsible scions of famous families.

California, for reference, currently allows parents to put the lives of innocent people at risk because of a belief in witchcraft opt out of vaccinating their children under a “personal belief exemption.” Massachusetts doesn’t allow that, but it does allow parents to put everyone else at risk because of a “religious exemption.” Just as dangerous practices are not given religious protection in other areas of society, so all Massachusetts parents should be required to vaccinate their children before they go to school.

Place a quid on next month's big election?

Okay, I’ll admit, quid is the only “Britishism” I could work into the title.  But the UK election right now is more fascinating than anything we’re likely to see over here.  Some highlights:

  • The Scottish Nationalist Party lost a sovereignty referendum, but looks to almost entirely dominate Scotland.  Who wants to get in bed with a bunch of people looking to leave the country?
  • Every election promises to be the one where the Green Party breaks out.  It never happens.  But maybe this time?
  • The UK Independence Party has been given exclusive rights to loathe the EU in the election.  They are also a bunch of anti-immigrants who leave voters with that icky feeling.
  • The Liberal Democrats were the sensible, smart choice for many voters…until they threw in with the Conservatives in government.  Now they get all the blame, none of the credit.
  • The Conservatives and Labor.  The “winner” gets to try to assemble and maintain a governing coalition.
  • And that doesn’t even get into the three candidates who will be elected to Parliament, and never take their seats.

If none of that made sense to you, this introduction from fivethirtyeight.com is a good place to start.  That said, what’s your take on the race?  What do you want to have happen?

Join us in Boston on Tuesday to Fight for $15!

By: Veronica Turner, Executive Vice President
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

On Tuesday the City of Boston will become the global launching point for two days of massive protests that will unite tens of thousands of workers on six continents in a call for greater economic justice.

It’s fitting that Boston will kick off the demonstrations, one of the first cities where the Fight for $15 became a rallying cry across industries. On this day, thousands of workers across the Commonwealth from the home care, higher education, transportation, fast food, retail and other industries will come together in Boston to protest low wages, highlight legislative priorities and place a spotlight on bad employer practices.

These demonstrations are needed now more than ever. While workers earned major victories in 2014 with a hike in the minimum wage, earned sick time and a domestic workers bill of rights, much work remains to be done when it comes to combating growing wage inequality.

The challenge is particularly striking here at home. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that Boston is the third most inequitable city in the nation, with the top 5 percent of households earning 15 times what the bottom 20 make.

The only one who matters is now officially "Ready for Hillary"!

After months of speculation that morphed into bet-the-house assumption, the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State announced that she is indeed running for President in 2016.  Her video is actually mostly about the aspirations of others.  She seems to be channeling Elizabeth Warren a bit in her own statement.  The RNC is clearly afraid of her and Wayne LaPierre was on a tear at the NRA convention.  The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has also made it clear they haven’t forgotten the 1990s and will make sure we don’t either.  She is my candidate for much the same reason she was in 2008.  She is hands down the best prepared to be President, and even more so now after a term as Secretary.  I eagerly await news of office openings in NH.

As April 15th Approaches, Every time I hear someone (especially Democrats) complain about paying taxes, I want to sit them down and set them straight.

It was 2001 and I had just moved to Massachusetts from Western New York.  I was puzzled at how many people wanted to know if I was a Yankees fan.  The fact is that I don’t follow baseball at all and had no idea that it was so important to the locals.  I guess they were afraid of having a traitor or spy in their midst.  The reality was that I did feel like a spy, but not because of baseball.

At that time, I was a Rush Limbaugh listening, Fox News watching, National Review subscribing Republican who saw moving to Massachusetts as just a few degrees shy of moving to Moscow.  In my thirst for conservative news and entertainment while I was on the road during the long hours of my sales job in the Bay State, I discovered a talk radio station where I could identify with the “best and brightest” audience of Jay Severin. My car radio was glued to WTKK which, coincidently, meant that I sometimes stumbled on the radio program of Margery Egan and Jim Braude.

It was during one of those moments listening to the Eagan and Braude program that I heard Jim Braude say, “Hey, I like paying my taxes!”  As a right winger, I thought, okay, where’s the punch line to this obvious joke?  Instead, I heard Jim Braude list a long line of services and people in his town, state and country that he was proud to support and grateful to have at his disposal.  It made me pause and think for a while.  As evidenced by this post, I never forgot it.  Still, I dismissed it as liberal nonsense at the time as I awaited Severin’s indoctrination of ignorance that is the stuff of right wing radio.

In 2002, in the space of a few weeks, I lost my job and my wife got get sick.  We had spent much of our savings on moving to Massachusetts. We had two children in grade school.  .  We were not broke, but close to it.  In 2002 we paid nothing in federal taxes because both my wife and I were out of work.  At one time, both of us were in the hospital.  Yes, we were “takers”.

Joke Revue" "Indiana Governor Stunned By How Many People Seem to Have Gay Friends"

Borowitz:

Indiana Governor Stunned By How Many People Seem to Have Gay Friends

INDIANAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—Indiana Governor Mike Pence is “stunned and amazed” that so many people appear to have gay friends, Pence has confirmed.

Speaking to reporters in his office in Indianapolis, Pence said that he made the astonishing discovery about gay friends late last week.

“A lot of everyday people have gay friends, and they’re not afraid to call and/or e-mail you to tell you that,” Pence said. “To be honest, I’m still trying to process it all.”

Pence said that from what he has been able to gather thus far, the phenomenon of “ordinary folks” having gay friends “has been going on for years.” …

“When I see so many people having gay friends, it makes me wonder if I should go out and get one,” he said. “But I guess that would be kind of hard for me to do now.”

Cruz’s Constant References to Jesus Drive Millions to Atheism

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s constant references to Jesus Christ in his speeches and campaign ads are sparking a strong interest in atheism among millions of Americans, atheist leaders report.

Since Sen. Cruz (R-Texas) announced his candidacy two weeks ago with the words “God isn’t done with America yet,” a substantial number of Americans “have begun seriously questioning the existence of God,” said Carol Foyler, the executive director of the American Society of Atheists.

“It’s been amazing,” Foyler said. “We’re getting calls from people who are curious about atheism for the first time in their lives. And when we ask them what got them thinking about it, they all say the same thing: ‘I just heard Ted Cruz talk.’ ”

Foyler said that her group often notices a surge in atheism after natural disasters or other traumatic events that rattle people’s faith, but, she added, “We’ve never seen anything like Ted Cruz.”

After Cruz aired an Easter weekend campaign ad in which he spoke of the transformative power of Christ, Foyler said, “Our phones were ringing off the hook.” …

Peace with Iran Could Limit Ability to Bomb It, Warns McCain

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Shortly after world powers successfully negotiated a nuclear-framework agreement with Iran, Sen. John McCain warned that a lasting peace with the Middle Eastern nation “could greatly limit our ability to bomb it.”

“President Obama is hailing this framework as something that could enhance the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” McCain told reporters at the United States Senate. “For those of us who have looked forward to bombing Iran for some time now, that would be a doomsday scenario.”

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Rand Paul announced he is running for president and bloggers pointed out that his campaign symbol, a small flame, looks nearly identical to the logo for the dating app Tinder. It’s appropriate because in either case you have no idea what you’re getting into and it probably won’t work out.” –Seth Meyers

“President Obama just made his first presidential trip to the state of Utah. Obama spent his time in Utah just like you’d expect — telling people, ‘Uh, no, I don’t play for the Jazz.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“A new survey out says 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Which is interesting because in a related survey, 100 percent of smart phones say they own an American.” –Jimmy Fallon

“You’ve all heard about the Indiana religious freedom law? Some people think it’s anti-gay. Well, presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker have all come out in favor of the new law. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say ‘come out.’” –Seth Meyers

“Yesterday, the White House confirmed that President Obama will meet with Pope Francis during his visit in September. Some experts are wondering if they’ll discuss their disagreement over contraception. Then Joe Biden said, ‘I didn’t even know they were dating.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“Republican candidate Ted Cruz said recently that in the 36 hours after he announced that he’s running for president, he’s raised over a million dollars. And Hillary Clinton closed her checkbook and said, ‘Happy to help. Can’t wait.’” –Jimmy Fallon

Pollack has plans?

Well, Transportation Secretary Pollack gave a mighty intriguing talk to a real estate group — folks with a real interest in a strong transit system, since transit boosts real estate values. Would love to see the specifics:

Transpo Secretary Pollack Tells NAIOP: Big Thinking AND Big Spending Ahead | MASSterList.

… There is spending capacity, and Pollack indicated that a new five-year spending plan, which she will announce soon, will exceed $1 billion per year in spending.

… “The opportunity we have right now is we have to rebuild all our transportation networks. Transit networks, roads networks or bridge networks. If we just rebuild what was there in 1960s, 70s or 80s then we have lost a huge opportunity and our return on that investment will be that we’ll have a transportation system that we had in 1970 but we’ll have the economy that we’ll have in 2020.”

I didn’t want to just paste the whole article — do click the link.

I haven’t reviewed the committee’s report yet – will do tonight. See Shirley Leung and Evan Horowitz for quick and dirty listicle-summaries. A few thoughts for now:

  • The failure of the MBTA to spend $2.2 billion between 2010-2014 is at once appalling but also hopeful. What was preventing it from going into maintenance? Where can it go now?
  • How compatible is Pollack’s plan with the 2013 21st Century MassDOT plan? Pollack’s remarks about adjusting our transit ideas for our future needs as opposed to 1970′s needs are intriguing, but do we reinvent this thing with every new administration?
  • As Leung notes, it’s critical to bring the MBTA under the control of the Governor’s office. You have to know who’s in charge, and whose job it is to fix things when they go wrong — and indeed, to whom to give credit when things are good. I’ll be more than happy to give credit to a Republican governor if there’s marked improvement over the next few years. This is about quality of life, not zero-sum politics.
  • Contra the report, fare increases should be kept low, as they are now. We should not try to get more blood from the stone of low-income people who depend on the T because they can’t afford cars. Regressive revenue measures should be resisted. Yes, Boston has fairly low fares compared to other systems — and it should stay that way.

Why I'm Banned from Harvard, and Why I'm Coming Back Anyway

I am banned from Harvard University.

I was banned from Harvard University on Friday, May 30th, 2014 after I stood in front of the stage where President Drew Faust was about to speak to an audience of several hundred Harvard alumni. Along with three other (much more distinguished) alumni — two reverends and a journalist — I held a banner for approximately two minutes before being whisked away by Harvard police. The banner read “Harvard Alumni For Divestment,” and we stood as part of a global movement calling for universities and other institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuel industry stocks.

Four alumni hold banner calling for Harvard to divest from fossil fuels in May 2014.

Four alumni hold banner calling for Harvard to divest from fossil fuels in May 2014.

I spent four years of my life studying law and policy at Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. During that time, I decided that the climate crisis was the greatest threat facing humanity, and resolved to do my part to address it, pushing for change on and off-campus. As part of these efforts, I was among four student leaders appointed by President Faust to serve on a university-wide task force to look at how Harvard should address its greenhouse gas emissions. After I graduated in 2010, Harvard awarded me an Irving R. Kaufman Fellowship to jumpstart my public service career. Shortly thereafter, I founded Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based non-profit focused on building the climate justice movement. I have now spent a half-decade since graduation fighting for policies that advance climate justice. Yet over the course of this time, I have been constantly butting up against the propaganda and opposition of the fossil fuel industry — propaganda and opposition that Harvard University is betting on, funding and seeking to profit from through its investments.

As a result, my public service career led me back to Harvard last spring when my fellow alumni and I chose to stand in solidarity with the students of Divest Harvard, who are calling on Harvard University to stop investing in — and profiting from — an industry that has continually fought tooth and nail against sane energy policies. In return, we were banned from Harvard for all time — or until we go pleading to Harvard’s Chief of Police for “permission” to step foot on our alma mater’s campus.

But I have no plans to stay away: Next week, I’ll be back as part of a weeklong series of events calling on Harvard to divest from fossil fuels — Harvard Heat Week. Following the leadership of Divest Harvard students, people from all quarters — alumni, faculty, local community members and others willing to fight for a better future – will be stepping up and speaking out, calling on Harvard to divest with rallies, panels and vigils. Some of us — including yours truly — will be risking arrest as part of a “highly civil” civil disobedience. We do not take this step lightly.

Call to Action: Remove Unapologetic Racist Karen O'Sullivan from the Bristol County DA's Office

If there are any thinking people left who think we are living in a postracial society, we need look no further than Bristol County to find damning evidence to the contrary. Lost amid the big stories of the Hernandez and Tsarnaev trials over the past few weeks was reporting on a very disturbing and outrageous scandal involving state prosecutors who amused themselves by trading racist emails on state time, with state resources. In particular, former Plymouth County assistant DA Karen H. O’Sullivan seems to have gotten a kick out of mocking people of other races, as well as making jokes at the expense of rape victims, while she was supposed to be working to enforce the law and ensure that justice is done for victims and the accused. Some of the emails were detailed by the Brockton Enterprise and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly:

“In one of the emails, dated Sept. 8, 2008, O’Sullivan forwarded a picture of a young child in a Ku Klux Klan costume to a fellow prosecutor,” an online article by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly states. “In another, dated Dec. 5, 2011, O’Sullivan forwarded an email ‘for my liberal friends’ labeled ‘black woman with one white boob and one black boob.’ A photo of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with President Obama and Vice President Biden follows.”

In another email conversation, dated July 27, 2009, a fellow prosecutor asked her colleagues if anyone could provide ‘sample jury instructions on constructive force’ for a child rape case in which a defendant allegedly got his 15-year-old niece drunk and performed oral sex on her,” …. ”‘[S]ounds like she wanted it,’ O’Sullivan responds.”

The good news is that Karen O’Sullivan no longer works in the Plymouth County DA’s office.

The bad news is that she is currently the First Assistant DA in the Bristol County DA’s office.

Even more disturbingly, when confronted with the evidence of O’Sullivan’s infantile sense of humor, staggering stupidity, and overt bigotry, Bristol County DA Thomas Quinn rushed to her defense!

“I have gotten to know her and have found her to be a person of high character and an appropriate representative of the district attorney’s office to people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds,” Quinn added.

Well, that’s very kind of Mr. Quinn, but let me ask my BMG friends this: If you were a member of a racial minority, or a young rape victim, would you have confidence in Karen O’Sullivan’s ability to treat you fairly? Would a sensible judge have any choice but to throw out convictions that O’Sullivan has obtained, given her obvious biases? Who knows how much damage is done to the cause of justice by allowing such unqualified, bigoted people to wield positions of such great power and influence?

This is all part of a longer story, full of stupid shenanigans, allegations and counter-allegations. Plymouth DA Cruz was accused by former underlings of pressuring staff to contribute to his re-election campaign. There are apparently other unnamed prosecutors who also find this sort of thing funny, and who also should be identified and removed, if they haven’t already been forced out.

However, I think these emails speak for themselves, and make at least one course of action abundantly clear: Karen H. O’Sullivan should not be working for the state in any capacity, especially in such a powerful position in the criminal justice system.

Please call Bristol County DA Thomas Quinn at (508) 997-0711 and tell him racism has no rightful place in the criminal justice system. Tell him to immediately terminate the employment of Karen O’Sullivan.

 

“Once you’re in the hands of the International Olympic Committee, the door to megalomania and corruption opens.”

Similarly:

“We need affordable housing for all,” the group declares on its website. “We need adequately funded day care centers, schools, universities and social institutions. We need something better than the Olympics!”

What group is that – No Boston Olympics?  Well, no, actually, it’s a group called “Das Anti Olympisches Komitee,” based in Hamburg, which is also in the running to host the 2024 games.  And the quote that makes up the title of this post was spoken by Mehmet Yildiz, a member of the Hamburg state Parliament.  The Globe story also collects quotes from Rome showing lots of unhappiness there as well about the possibility of hosting the Olympics.  Rome of course has its own special problems:

The naysaying in Italy is being fueled by a scandal, dubbed Mafia Capital, that has revealed the long reach of organized crime into city contracts and the halls of political power in Rome.

“The Games have often proved to be a big waste, and we are a country that doesn’t have it in our blood to avoid trouble with big projects,” Giuseppe “Pippo” Civati, a member of the Italian Parliament, warned recently in La Repubblica, a leading Italian daily….

Giovanni Malagò, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, speaking to the mayor of Rome in January, said … “[w]e have almost three years before the host city of the 2024 Olympics is chosen, and during this time we will need to find a way to show, once and for all, that Mafia Capital will not return,” he said.

So, it’s not just Bostonians being cranky.  In every location where political dissent is tolerated, there are lots of people who don’t think hosting the Olympics is such a great idea.

John Hoberman, an Olympic historian at the University of Texas-Austin, said rising opposition to international sporting events is one reason more of them are being hosted by countries with authoritarian governments. China and Kazakhstan have emerged as the two candidates vying for the 2022 Winter Games.

“The bloom has come off the rose when it comes to these mega-sporting events, and the prestige argument just doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “The proof of that is the number of cities in democratic countries saying, ‘No, thank you. Not worth it.’ ”

Boston 2024 and the others who want to host the games here need to stop pushing the line that, by hosting the Olympics, Boston will somehow prove itself to be a “world class city.”  First, nobody knows what that actually means.  Second, as many have remarked already, we already have more than our share of the world’s greatest educational, cultural, and athletic institutions.  And third, if having a lot of residents who don’t want the Olympics makes us not “world class,” then I guess Rome, Hamburg, and maybe Paris aren’t either.