Jim Foley and journalistic heroism

Photo GlobalPost

Photo GlobalPost

Islamic extremists yesterday posted a video purporting to show the beheading of GlobalPost.com photojournalist James Foley, a New Hampshire native in Syria nearly two years ago.  U.S. intelligence is still not confirming the grizzly death as of 7 a.m. this morning, and GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni has not yet confirmed the tragic event, said by ISIS terrorists to be retaliation for U.S. bombing in Northern Iraq.  But Foley’s family, in a Facebook statement, reposted on GlobalPost, has “We have never been prouder of our son and brother Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people…”We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

As Dan Kennedy points out in his Media Nation blog, it’s the journalists who go into combat zones at their own peril who are the true heroes of the profession. I couldn’t agree more.

The most dangerous thing I ever did as a journalist was criticize a politician or slam a government agency. Well, yes, throw in an occasional snipe at Whitey Bulger (albeit from a distance) or pounding the pavement at “grueling” national political conventions. The greatest risk to me was verbal attack or contempt, never physical danger.  You don’t die from not being liked (something every journalist has to accept). And yet Foley and other wartime reporters and photographers have put themselves in jeopardy time and again, disregarding their personal safety to go into combat zones and bring us the true story.

This horrible news about Jim Foley brings back the beheading of Wall St. Journal reporters Danny Pearl, murdered in Pakistan 12 years ago. The Boston Globe’s outstanding correspondent Elizabeth Neuffer died in a car accident while covering Iraq a year later. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot and killed in April in Afghanistan.

We remember the famous ones. Think Ernie Pyle in World War II. George Polk in the Greek Civil War. The AP, Time and Newsweek reporters killed following the story of the Vietnam War. But there are so many more.  The Committee to Protect Journalists lists well over a thousand killed since 1992,  in Iraq, the Philippines, Rwanda, Mexico and other countries around the world. They cover everything from war to human rights, politics to business. There’s little consolation that they died doing what they loved to do.

Every time we read a story from a war zone or from some far-flung government upheaval, we should remember those journalists who are daily putting their lives on the line to bring that story to us. The enduring truth is that we all owe then an enormous debt of gratitude.

I welcome your comments in the section below. 





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Is there any reason to stay with Verizon?

telephoneThis month has brought several scam calls from a man with an Indian or Pakistani accent claiming to be from the IRS.  FTC take notice!  Also, proving what a fraud the national Do Not Call Registry is, there have been daily calls from a 406 MT exchange, with caller ID cleverly popping up the name “Evelyn Davis,” – a man wanting me to refinance to lower my credit costs. I’ve tried everything to stop those, to no avail.  But nothing has pushed my blood pressure off the charts as Verizon has, with what it has done to our voice mail.

Verizon “upgraded” to a new voice mail system on July 31st.  Old voice messages were Verizon logoapparently out in the ether. Trying to retrieve voice mail prompted the message that our access code wasn’t working. We tried to call Verizon service but were repeatedly directed to seek help online. The online effort prompted the internet message that “the page could not be displayed.”

It was back and forth between online and phone customer “service” for  hours, and then my husband took over. He got trapped between a page asking for identification of phone number, email and amount of last bill (with all input being rejected) and an automated chirpy avatar offering help, but only to non-germane questions.

Finally, he managed to get a simple voicemail message activated so we retrieved two weeks of messages.  Then we tried to set up the sub mail-boxes, so we each would have a password-controlled mailbox. The Verizon operator whose help we sought explained that tech support can be different for western and eastern parts of the country, and, oh goodie, we had reached someone in Dallas. The mailbox systems, he explained, were different for east and west regions. He was useless for someone in Boston.

The next day we went back to trying to follow unclear instructions to set up sub mailboxes. In the process, our entire mailbox access crashed.  If you’ve called us, we’ll never know. Back to tech support. This time we were dealing with a woman in Tijuana, Mexico. She tried and tried to reboot our phone.  No luck, but, she said, especially since tech support for the eastern part of the country was now closing for the day at 5 PM. She’d have someone higher up call “tomorrow.”  If they don’t, she advised, call tech support again.

When they didn’t call, we did and were told on Thursday the matter would be repaired by end of day Friday. Friday came, no call and we’re told by another Tijuana operator to wait until Monday, because,  she said, tech support was unavailable over the weekend. Other operators, presumably higher up, said the same thing.

Monday came, no calls arrived. We reached someone in NJ who so earnestly tried to help that we asked why he was working for Verizon. Aware that the call was being monitored for “training purposes,” he demurred. He said he’d gone as far as he could, even deleting and restoring the entire voice mail feature, but we’d have to wait until tomorrow to test the feature.  My husband proposed that customers on hold (after half hour of “free”waiting)  be permitted to deduct their time at their states’ minimum  wage from their next bill.

Today in the mail we received a pitch from Verizon offering their “best prices ever” and a telephone solicitation from Comcast, offering the same. We’ve been reluctant to bundle our internet, cable and phone service, even if it meant saving a few bucks.  In the past, we reasoned,  that Comcast had built its expertise with cable and internet, and Verizon with phone. But our phones now are FIOS and no longer hard wired during a power outage. We understand that Verizon’s technology might be better than Comcast’s, but its customer service over the years has been unremittingly bad. Once, after failing to show up for two service calls, Verizon offered to send someone out on the weekend to accommodate us. The person they sent was, get this, a pay phone “specialist” available on a Saturday, but clueless to phones inside homes.

The internet is filled with customers with complaints about both companies. But, dear readers,  is there really any reason to stay with Verizon at all?  Should we switch everything to Comcast, aware of the national horror stories that may await us? How do you deal with the Comcast-Verizon conundrum? Do you bundle internet, cable and phone with either company (and why)? What’s been your experience with your choice?

I’m tired of ruining the last beautiful days of summer trying  to get Verizon to get our 617 area code phone working. Please advise.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Boston Harbor cruise says a lot about the Hub

sail Boston HarborA gorgeous day and a cruise of Boston Harbor celebrates how far we have come in creating a world class destination. A two-hour sail on the 80-foot schooner Adirondack III is a treat accessible to everyone from Rowes Wharf.  For me, as a journalist who covered harbor issues during the ’80’s and ’90’s, there was particular gratification.

With skipper Tim Lord at the helm, we moved out into clear, clean waters, once the toilet bowl of the region.  Decades ago, I did an editorial showing a (clean) piece of

Adirondack III skipper Tim Lord

Adirondack III skipper Tim Lord

tissue being flushed away only to show up in Boston Harbor. My boss thought my imagery crossed the line, but I’m still glad I did it.  It was that important a message. When you flushed your toilet, it ended up in Boston Harbor.

I had been repelled at seeing druggies’ needles and tampon applicators  washing up on Carson Beach and the cancerous tumors showing up on fish pulled up by the research vessel out of UMass Boston.

At one time, Boston Harbor was labeled the “dirtiest harbor in the nation,” and President George Bush famously attacked Governor Mike Dukakis on the issue from a boat in the harbor during the 1988 Presidential election.

We all owe thanks to a 20-year effort by “sludge judge” the late A. David Mazzone, responding to a lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation and an activist Metropolitan District Commission (predecessor of today’s Department of Conservation and Recreation). It was Mazzone who declared the dumping of waste by a broken water treatment facility to be illegal and ordered remediation.  Federal dollars were secured, and the cleanup, including a new Deer Island Waste Treatment facility, came in on time and on budget. Yes, $3.8 billion of your federal and state tax dollars can be spent well.

After the judge’s decision and plans underway, I walked the construction site at Deer Island with then Mass Water Resources Authority chief Paul Levy (former  CEO of the Beth Israel Hospital). The successful outcome could hardly be imagined. Now you can swim in Boston’s waters. Tourists and locals alike are drawn to the shore and beyond.  The  arch at Rowes Wharf has become an icon of the city, the whole seaport area has come alive, from the Moakley Courthouse, the Institute of Contemporary Art, commercial buildings like Manulife and Vertex, condos, restaurants, and more.

Former Mayor Tom Menino, of course, deserves much credit for making the Seaport Area a priority.  But crucial to the outcome were the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy, plus the entire Massachusetts delegation, for securing billions for the Big Dig (admittedly, over time and over budget), which eliminated the Central Artery that had separated the harbor from city since the 1950’s.   And one mustn’t forget Governor Mike Dukakis’ transportation czar Fred Salvucci, who got the Big Dig project in his head and never let it go.  The seaport, with its pristine waters, is now integrated into the city, for all of us to enjoy.  Even contaminated Spectacle Island, where tons of material from the Big Dig project were dumped, is now a landscaped park. Amazing!

For those of us who live in the MWRA district, this success story has come at a price, with ever-increasing rates for the vast capital expenses that have had to be bonded over the years. I gripe at every quarterly bill. But in the case of the harbor, as in the Big Dig ( that now means just 25 minutes most days from the western suburbs to Logan Airport), at least we can see what we’re getting for our pocketbook pain.  That’s why I heartily recommend a cruise on the harbor to make us feel good about what has been accomplished.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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John Tierney regains his stride

John Tierney LTimes have changed for Sixth district Congressman John Tierney, and things are looking good.  This, though he faces a rerun of the 2012 challenge from Republican Richard Tisei and, in the September primary, four challengers within his own party.  Tierney went through a few miserable years, thanks to his wife’s legal troubles  (She pled guilty to helping her brother file fraudulent tax returns), and won in 2012 by a scant 1.1 percent.  Cleared by  the House Ethics Committee,  this matter should now be behind him, though his challengers might wish otherwise.

Now in the throes of a campaign for his tenth term in the U.S. House, Tierney is running vigorously on his record, making the case that experience matters and that a Democrat who reaches across the aisle can get things done, even in a Republican-controlled House.

A couple of his opponents like to say that, in the last 18 years in Congress, only one bill has had Tierney’s name on it.  That kind of criticism, Tierney told a meeting today of The New England Council, is “the last bastion of those who don’t know how legislation is made.”  The idea is to work collaboratively and share credit, he said.  “You don’t do it to get named after you unless you’re dying or retiring,” he quipped. In Congress there are show horses and work horses, and Tierney clearly prefers the latter role.

His whole career is a testament that working collaboratively and sharing the credit – especially given the bitter partisan divide in Washington today-  is the only way to get things done. He attended a White House bill signing ceremony two weeks ago for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which brings together educators and employers to determine where the jobs are, then develop curricula that meet the needs of the workforce. It will prepare individuals for millions of new jobs opening up by 2020 in IT, energy, health care and more. The law used the sponsorship framework of a GOP bill that Tierney opposed, deleted the worst parts, and inserted key provisions Tierney had long worked for. President Obama congratulated  him for not only getting a good bill through a do-nothing Congress, but getting it through a bitterly divided House with more than 400 votes. This is the politics of artful compromise.

Tierney  has been a key player in the areas of higher education and workforce development. On the House Committee on Education and Labor, he co-authored a bill to educate people for green jobs, which was included in a major energy security act in 2007. He co-authored the College Affordability and Accountability Act, which, along with some his other proposals, became part of a comprehensive education opportunity act in 2008. He has continued to work on issues even while not in the majority.   Along with Senator Elizabeth Warren and California Congressman George Miller, Tierney has filed a bill to allow borrowers to refinance student loans, potentially cutting down on the heavy cost of college.

Recently Tierney became ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions  Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over all matters dealing with relationships between employers and employees including pensions, health benefits, labor relations, to name just a few.  In other words, very quietly John Tierney has become a key player in the domestic economy.  As New England Council President Jim Brett put it, “John Tierney is very important to New England.”

Being a Congressman – or woman – isn’t just about passing bills with your name on it, or even just passing legislation.  It’s also about monitoring how those new laws are implemented, scrutinizing the drafting of regulations, deciding  whether regulations as applied make sense or over-reach  and judging when it may be necessary to adjust the original law in light of experience.

Being a good congressman also involves making sure that cities and towns in one’s own district get a fair share of HUD grants for subsidized housing, or infrastructure monies for roads and bridges. And Tierney works hard on all that, earning him the gratitude and substantial support from those in the district who value his experience.

Right now, Tierney has a commanding lead (64 percent of the vote) over all the Democratic challengers combined. But clearly the rematch race against Tisei in the general election is of a different magnitude.

Tisei distinguished himself by refusing to attend the Republican state convention this spring in protest of the GOP’s position on gay marriage. Tisei himself married his longtime partner more than a year ago and that was not a tough call. He was and  could be an attractive candidate running for a statewide office.  But his biggest problem is the Republican Party at the  national level, especially in a Congress that increasingly moves  ideologically rightward.  Recently almost all House Republicans voted to sue Obama for abuse of power. Those who didn’t, preferred impeachment. How would Tisei have voted?

He either has to go along to get along with today’s majority Republican Party or, seeking to distance himself from it, probably limit his power and access. Beyond voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, in what other ways would Tisei align himself  with the Republican caucus and, more importantly, how will his priorities differ from Tierney’s? I’d like to see some enterprising reporter ferret out what Tisei’s votes would have been on a whole range of issues, compared to what Tierney’s were. Sixth district voters need to go well beyond campaign rhetoric and gauzy political ads if they’re to make an informed choice.

I welcome your comment in the section below.


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Probation convictions: business as usual?

State House MAThe whole smarmy business makes you want to take a shower, but the racketeering and conspiracy trial of former Probation Commissioner Jack O’Brien and two top aides was more than just your garden variety patronage. As the Globe’s Tom Farragher put it, it was “patronage on steroids and … criminal.”

Nepotism, cronyism, getting a job because of whom you know, those things have always gone on and probably always will.  But the three convicted took patronage to a whole new level. Their elaborate scheme involved rating job candidates based on the clout of the legislator sponsoring them, making sure the candidates were in the pool of finalists,  rigging the evaluations to justify putting them ahead of other, more qualified candidates, and falsifying documentation to “prove” they were hired according to the rules.

In return, O’Brien was treated favorably at budget time and became a center of power. The Boston Globe uncovered the details of the rigged system and presented dramatic examples of the ne’er-do-wells hired solely because they had the backing of legislative leaders. For their part, legislative leaders cemented their own powers in exchange for having done favors for members.

A generation ago, the fertile hunting ground for legislative patronage jobs was county government, but, as more functions were removed from county control, a legislator had to look elsewhere to get a pal or constituent a job. The probation department became the default employment agency. Testimony during the trial, capped by yesterday’s conviction of O’Brien and his aides, notably validates the cynicism people have about government.

But there are some troubling questions:  As raised by attorney Harvey Silverglate and his assistant Daniel Schneider in Mass. Lawyers Weekly, and pointed out by Dan Kennedy in his Media Nation blog, a real question exists as to whether the U.S. Attorney should have brought the case in the first place.  The two assert that this was federal over-reach, criminalizing some behaviors that, while constituting patronage at the state level, were not federal felonies. By hiring the unqualified and rigging the process, O’Brien et al were surely committing “fraud against the Commonwealth,”  but shouldn’t that have been dealt with at the state level?  Maybe so, but, given the state’s culture, would it have been?

The jury did a thorough and thoughtful job.  Those convicted could theoretically go to the slammer for up to 20 years, but that seems unlikely. Unsavory patronage is pervasive, and, indeed, there are more than 30 so-called unindicted co-conspirators, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo.  Now DeLeo and others are left hanging, with no day in court and perhaps never able to remove the stain from their reputations.  They may or may not deserve to do so, but there’s little opportunity to clear their names in the court of public opinion.

Of course, if the public were less apathetic, other candidates could come forward and voters could register their disgust by voting out of office any obvious miscreants in this corrupt system. Sadly,  half the members of the House and Senate are running unopposed this fall. So perhaps we have to share the blame for the condition of the political process, the questionable ethics of some who represent us, and the quality of those whom they, in turn, recommend for government jobs.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Israel’s dilemma: how much is too much

GazaPresident Obama said again today that Israel has a right to defend itself against the 1500 missiles Hamas has recently lobbed from Gaza into Israel and tunnel incursions to kill and capture Israeli citizens. But this morning he expressed concern about “the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.” The Hamas missiles haven’t been particularly effective (mostly terrorizing rather than killing Israelis), so Hamas and pro-Palestinian activists criticize Israel’s response as not being proportional.

How can it be “proportional” if a weakened Hamas has as its main strategy the deaths of Palestinians? How else to explain the placement of its missile equipment in homes, schools and hospitals, then telling civilians not to heed Israeli warnings to leave?  Clearly, and cynically, the more bodies pile up due to Israel, the better the standing of Hamas in the world.

Indeed, the Hamas Interior Ministry has sent directives to social media to refer always to any Gaza casualties as “innocent civilians” and the retaliation against all Hamas missile attacks as Israeli aggression.   It’s only now that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is fighting on the ground (to eliminate the tunnels Hamas has built to infiltrate between Gaza and Israel) that Israeli soldiers have been dying.  So is that a good thing because that’s a move toward proportionality? The reality is that Hamas’ shooting missiles into a civilian population is a war crime, and embedding its extremists in its own highly populated civilian centers is a war crime as well.

Hamas propaganda has had an impact in France, London and elsewhere, prompting nasty but predictable anti-Israel demonstrations. The Imam of Berlin called for the annihilation of the Jews (see this chilling video clip from the Middle East Media Research Institute). Iran has faulted the leaders of  other Arab nations for remaining silent on the matter. But on Egyptian television, commentators, fed up with Hamas, said that while they would die for the cause of the Palestinians, they wouldn’t give up an eyebrow for Hamas. Some in Saudi Arabia, fearful of jihadists, are now openly supportive of Israel, and officials in Yemen, Tunisia and Turkey have been unusually subdued.

It’s unfortunate that Israel’s obduracy in building more and more settlements in the West Bank has limited its ability to use the increased economic growth of that area to persuade potential Hamas critics living in Gaza to stand up and demand the same kind of economic opportunity. The poverty rate in Gaza is twice as high as in the West Bank, according to the World Bank. 2011 and 2012 saw economic growth in the West Bank. Since then, especially now that the Palestine Authority is collaborating with Hamas, the economy has slowed.

Sadly, despite the nuanced differences in the 2014 replay of this familiar drama, there is a sense that this mini-war will wind down, perhaps within a couple of weeks or less, with a patchwork cease-fire; many of the Hamas rockets and tunnels  will be eliminated or temporarily blocked only to be resupplied and re-dug.  New peace conversations may be initiated, and eventually they will fail.

Four or five years from now, if not before, the situation will be right back where it is today. And that’s where it will stay, until all the nations in the Middle East accept Israel’s right to exist and confidence-building steps are taken locally so rational Israelis and rational Palestinians are secure enough to take risks for peace.  Increasingly I fear this is unlikely to happen. The extremists in the Palestinian territories and their enablers outside continue to exercise a veto over the peace process. And from polling data it is clear that many silent majority Palestinians have not lessened their commitment to drive Israel into the sea. These risks are real, and the United States and Europe must not let that happen.

Even if there were to be a willing and able Palestinian partner for peace who could deliver on all the outstanding issues, I have increasing doubts that a similar willing and able hand could be found in Israel. Both sides have a vested interest in the status quo, but the status quo is not sustainable. And so it goes.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Child illegals: creating a haven, but for how long?

photo Daily Mail UK

photo Daily Mail UK

A sovereign nation must be able to control its borders. The United States cannot simply throw open the gates and let anyone come in, even children.  That said, there needs to be a humane approach to the nearly 60,000 often-unaccompanied alien children that have crossed our southern border.  Deval Patrick seems heading in a rational and humane direction toward offering temporary secure shelter on military property in the Bay State.

One can’t help being moved by the haunting faces of the youngsters who have travelled hundreds of miles, fleeing gangs and drug violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Mexicans are sent back immediately. Central Americans are held pending assessment of their individual cases, based on a 2008 law passed with bipartisan support under President George Bush.

They’ll likely end up being deported, but, while their legal cases are processed, the federal government is asking other states to share with our border states the burden of housing the children in secure facilities.  Reportedly, the Patrick administration is looking at Camp Edwards, part of the larger Cape Cod military reservation, which provided temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina victims. (An alternative is Westover Air Base in Chicopee.)He speaks of taking 400 kids for four months, though I’m not confident about the projections. The feds are supposed to foot the bill.

According to the Boston Globe, MA House minority leader Brad Jones would prefer using the space for the state’s homeless.  Can you see rounding up the homeless on the streets of Boston or Lowell and putting them in barracks on Cape Cod? State policy now favors finding permanent housing for the chronically homeless, preferably in or close to their home communities.  Camp Edwards is a short-term solution for an event-driven problem. Comparing the child evacuees to chronically homeless is not equivalent.

The Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow noted that, while these children may not be with a parent or legal guardian, they are not necessarily travelling alone.  Some may be with other relatives, neighbors, smugglers or others (including sex traffickers).  Thinking about the vulnerability of these youngsters, the horrors they’ve seen or experienced, I don’t find that distinction particularly reassuring.  This is a perfect opportunity for church, temple or mosque groups to find temporary homes for some of these children.

While the headlines today have turned to Gaza and the Ukraine, we should still help take care of those children awaiting legal processing. Congress has to fund the process for adjudicating the cases expeditiously. Then voters have to push Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Sadly, immigration reform won’t be a panacea if the American and worldwide demand for drugs continues to fuel the narcotics-related violence that’s disrupting families and driving these children from their homelands.  This is an unbelievable mess, and the failure of Washington leaders to take responsible action is shameful.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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