Market Basket deal: time to celebrate

Market Basket logoIt’s hard not to be happy that the Market Basket board approved Arthur T. Demoulas’ buyout of the supermarket company.  Not that I shop there; there isn’t one near me. But my sister does, and praises its bargains. What makes a mere onlooker happy is the sense that for once the little guy won, that is, a bunch of little guys, the employees standing in solidarity without a union and refusing to bend to moneyed corporate power. Refusing even though it put their jobs in jeopardy and, for six weeks, affected their family income.

This really does seem to be a victory for time-honored (too often ignored) corporate values of appreciating the employee, sharing profits through better benefits, and reinvesting in the company rather than having all profits go back to the shareholders.   It is a triumph for the notion that CEO’s can really care about the ordinary folks who work for them.

The Boston Globe just posted video of the pickup in activity in the warehouse. The mood is celebratory, though for some weary protesters this resolution seems to have come just in time.  It’s unclear, notwithstanding their dedication to CEO Artie T, how much longer they could have held out.  Beyond the grit and determination they have all shown,  employees and customers alike now have to have patience.  According to the Globe, it will take seven to ten days until Market Basket shelves are 80 percent full, and it will take two weeks to be back to 100 percent.

It may be that some shoppers have found other places to buy their groceries, but I suspect some newcomers will try Market Basket for the first time. The outstanding question is whether Artie T’s purchase of the “other side’s” 50.5 percent leaves him with debt service so large it renders impossible the low low prices for shoppers and generous employee benefits.  There may well have to be adjustments there.  For the immediate future, at least there are 25,000 workers who will have a boss who seems to really care about them and understand that they are the core of the company’s success.  Can you imagine Bank of America or American Airlines (substitute your own favorite ice-water-in-the-veins corporation) dealing with customers and employees as Market Basket has?

I welcome your comments in the section below

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Clock ticking on state gov. candidates

Democratic gubernatorial candidate state treasurer Steve Grossman has  narrowed the gap between Attorney General Martha Coakley and him, but it’s unclear if he can make up a remaining 12-point deficit in the last two weeks before the state primary. Right now, however, those same polls show Coakley holding a 23-percentage lead over Grossman among women voters, some of whom are intent on reversing the history of women failing to make it to the corner office. I wonder if he regrets not sharing some of his convention delegates with erstwhile candidate Juliette Kayyem to keep another woman in the race.

The ever uncharismatic Grossman has become a much better candidate in the last two months, projecting competence.  He has sharpened his message (job creator in both private and public sectors) and has mastered being forceful without seeming a bully, always tricky for a male candidate running against a female.

He has scored points criticizing Coakley’s “pattern of poor judgment”  for sanctioning Partners Health Care acquisitions of community hospitals in seeming disregard of impact on health costs and “allowing to walk”  a lobbyist/former donor who charged a hospital on a possibly illegal contingency basis. Coakley, in turn, counters that Grossman has raised $150,000 from industries he regulates and that he has “sent jobs out of state” by having campaign signs printed elsewhere. Hardly equivalent criticisms to be sure.

During that heated exchange in Monday’s Boston Herald debate, former Medicaid/Medicare administrator Don Berwick, the third candidate in the race, scolded them both  for their “politics as usual.”  “It doesn’t help people,” he said, to good effect. Dr. Berwick,  smart and progressive, likes to “take the long view,” and embraces values of social justice, compassion and equality of opportunity. He even pledges “to end hunger and chronic homelessness in my first term.”  Oh, my.  But, much as we like to fault politicians for not taking the long view, Berwick seems singularly disinclined to talk specifics about the here and now.  He is a single-minded proponent of a single-payer health care system, but I have never heard him explain how exactly he would move the state there.

All three Democrats faulted Republican Charlie Baker for “mismanaging” the Big Dig, an issue that seems dredged from the Paleolithic era, with blame for the (wildly successful) project costs being shared by two decades of Republican and Democratic governors.

How they all deal with the casino issue becomes a prism for viewing the candidates. Both Coakley and Grossman favor casinos, while Berwick decidedly does not.  If the repeal referendum passes in November, Republican Charlie Baker would file a bill to create a single casino – in Springfield.  So would the Dems also advance a one-casino bill?  Coakley is classically non-committal, saying “Let’s take it one step at a time, see where the vote goes.”  Grossman is clear cut. Despite being a casino supporter, he “wouldn’t go that route……out of respect for the people’s vote.” Berwick passionately opposes casinos. Period.

The more interesting question: if repeal passes, how would each make up the $73 million in casino revenues that the state budget counts on? Coakley, in full frontrunner mode, didn’t specify (read: I don’t have to commit until I see if the repeal referendum passes?). Grossman was certain that, in a $40 billion state budget, “we’ll find it,” even if it means invading the state’s rainy day fund. Berwick, as with most spending issues, would cover costs with savings from health care reform.  But that wouldn’t  happen overnight, and meanwhile there’s that nasty $73 million gap.

In a parallel vein, on the matter of funding universal pre-K education, Berwick said that, in addition to savings from heath care,  he’d go after $2 billion in tax expenditures (loopholes). Plus, he supports a graduated income tax.  Apparently his taking the long view forward is not retrospective. Perhaps he’s not aware of  repeated anti-grad tax votes for many decades?

Attorneys general, it seems, have difficulty getting elected governor. Think, Eddie McCormack, Bob Quinn, George Fingold, Frank Bellotti,  Scott Harshbarger, and Tom Reilly; all failed trying.  The last Attorney General to be elected governor was Paul Dever, who tried it once and failed but finally succeeded in 1948, after military service.  Prior to that, I can only find James Sullivan, at the beginning of the 19th century.  Will Coakley break the pattern of half a century?She is a better candidate than when she ran against Scott Brown in 2010, but many questions still remain.

Most independents, the majority of Massachusetts voters, won’t weigh in until the general election. Recent polls suggest that some 47 percent of Grossman supporters would jump to Baker in the general election rather than support Coakley. But Baker, whose  performances to date are nothing if not uneven, is not a shoo-in. Of course, if Berwick ( now trailing badly, but who has said he’s “in it to win it“)  got out of the race, things would really be stirred up, and both Democratic and Republican primary winners could assert that they were supported by the majority of their parties.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Market Basket a real-life “Tyrant” drama

Market Basket logoThe dueling Demoulas brothers remind me of nothing so much as the hot new Fox dramatic series called Tyrant. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, the son of a corrupt and murderous Middle Eastern dictator/president (pick your model), has fled to the United States to become a pediatrician.  Married with two children, he is the “good” son, who returns after 20 years to visit his family .  The “bad” son is the brutal Jamal, who, upon his father’s death, takes over the make-believe country of Abbudin, apparently intent on carrying on his father’s ways.

The “bad” brother, Jamal, rapes, steals, jails and kills his critics, but underneath it all we learn he has a soft spot; he really wants to turn his back on the presidency and flee with his mistress to the white sandy beaches of the Maldives . The “good son,” recognizing that the “bad” son is disastrous for the people of Abbudin, determines to overthrow him and, in the process, resorts to methods that reveal his own inner tyrant.

Today’s excellent reporting on Market Basket’s  Demoulas brothers  by  Shirley Leung (“bad” brother Arthur S. “shows generosity and resolve”) and Callum Borchers (“good” brother Arthur T’s “personal touch can cut both ways”) is a page out of the Tyrant playbook. The Demoulas scions are cousins, not brothers, but the message is the same: the “good” Arthur can also be cutting and nasty; the “bad” Arthur can also be generous and thoughtful. Set aside the spin.  This is not a Manichean struggle of pure good versus pure evil.  They are both flawed human beings, with much dramatic and emotional family baggage.

What seems to differentiate the two is that Arthur S. wants the profits largely to benefit the shareholders and Arthur T. wants to share the profits with Market Basket employees and customers (through lower prices.)  It is that  philosophy, along with his own talent for interpersonal relations, that endears him to the employees of Market Basket. The saga over the past month, as employees and customers stand behind Arthur T, is nothing short of epic.  And all this solidarity without a union!

Now, sadly, the brothers’ obstinacy threatens to bring down the whole Demoulas empire. Governor Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, properly reluctant from the outset, to interfere in the business of a private company, have recently been trying to bring about some resolution. It may be too late. The once $4.6 billion company is hemorrhaging millions every day.  Employees, many still protesting, are desperate for income.  Organizers have set up a website to raise money to help out hard-hit employees. Suppliers have been left finding new outlets for their produce. Customers depending on Market Basket’s low prices to get by are having go  elsewhere and pay higher prices. Ill will is growing throughout the marketplace, and there’s a very damaging impact on the regional economy.

Arthur T. wants to buy out Arthur S., return to his CEO position and end the stand-off.  Arthur S. is said to be considering other offers, including one from the Delhaize holding company that owns Hannaford’s.  But combining Market Basket and Hannaford’s could raise a host of anti-trust considerations, according to news analysis. Public sentiment seems to be with Arthur T. and the employees because most like to see the little guys (along with rich Arthur T) prevail.

Somewhere, I am convinced, a screenwriter has already started on a script to capture the nearly century-long story of the Demoulas family, the rise from poor immigrants to small market owners, to successful supermarket owners, to  empire chieftain.  It will be a tale of family rivalries, betrayals, battles for wealth and control. The script will chronicle how it is the “little people” who are hurt from the epic and prideful battles over money and power.

What we don’t know yet is whether the key players survive, and whether there will be justice and redemption. Or do they all fall on the battlefield, victims of their own greed, pride and blind stubbornness. Tune in next week.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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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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