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Despite "boos," Obama re-inspires the faithful in Boston

June 26, 2012 01:03 PM

Et tu, Boston?

To Fenway-trained ears, it sounded mostly like “Yooouuk,” the guttural chorus that traditionally broke out when ever longtime Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis stepped up to the plate. But President Obama clearly believed he triggered another traditional sound, after he thanked Boston for trading Youkilis to his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox.

“I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here, but I guess I shouldn’t have – I should not have brought up baseball,” Obama said to supporters who filled Boston Symphony Hall on Monday night. “My mistake, my mistake. You’ve got to know your crowd.”

Politics and sports are a treacherous mix. Boston baseball fans booed John Kerry when he threw out the first pitch before the start of a Sox-Yankees game that preceded the 2004 convention that selected the senator from Massachusetts as its nominee. But the pro-Obama crowd that filled Symphony Hall quickly settled any confusion over their response to the president’s words.

“We still love you,” a woman’s voice rang out, bringing the warm ovation that is more common in Obama-crazy Massachusetts.

About 1,800 Obama supporters paid $250 to $10,000 to fill the balconies and sit around small, Pops-style circular tables on the floor. In return, they heard a campaign speech aimed at re-inspiring the faithful by reminding them of the shared vision of 2008, the “compact that binds us together as a people.”

Four years later, it is striking to realize just how hard Obama must work to reconstruct the shared vision that catapulted him to the White House: the “basic bargain” that a country bought into so passionately in 2008. Now, the narrative is complicated by Obama’s version of the challenges he confronted once elected: “surpluses turned into deficits… two wars fought on credit cards… the worst financial crisis of our lifetime.” Now, he has to spend time quietly stitching together the story of what he tried to do, and who tried to stop him, before he can thunder the phrases that bring supporters to their feet. Now, he has to argue “there is nothing radical” about his vision, and insist that he does not believe government is the answer to all problems. Now, to arouse passion in listeners, he must divide up the electorate around specific causes. They include women’s right “to control their own health choices”; the right of gays not to be “kicked out of the military”; and the desire of illegal immigrants to one day attain citizenship.

“How do we reclaim that basic bargain? How do we do it?” he asked the faithful. Obama calls the answer “the defining issue of our time,” and he’s right. His challenge in 2012 is that there are two dramatically different visions of what it takes to re-ignite confidence in the country. And confidence is key to achieving the shared goal of turning the economy around for all citizens.

Even in Boston, Obama may not have had everyone at hello. But by the end of this speech, he reminded this gathering why they see it his way.

“It was a quiet conversation about what’s at stake,” said Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross. “He brought the crowd to his side.”

Then again, it was Boston. If he can’t do it there, he can’t do it anywhere.

What I learned from my cameo role in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article about working moms

June 22, 2012 05:19 PM

I have too many kids and my language can be a little too crude. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from the responses that have poured in after my cameo role in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now-famous article about the difficulties of elite working women.

Since the piece by the former top State Department official appeared in the Atlantic on Wednesday, it has stirred up a huge reaction online, setting traffic records for the magazine’s website and stirring up a debate on whether working mothers in prominent jobs can really “have it all.” In a measure of how quickly it entered the zeitgeist, the debate triggered by the article landed on the front page of the New York Times this morning.

I was quoted twice in Slaughter’s lengthy article, and this has lead to an enormous amount of commentary from friends, family, colleagues, and even total strangers.

A little background first. I am a bit player in the working mother wars. I wrote a short piece about the dearth of women in foreign policy for the Council on Foreign Relations, which was picked up by Slaughter for her article; she also recounted a conversation that we had at a party. At the time of that conversation, I was a commuter mom; my husband David had taken the kids back to Boston after his tenure in Washington with the Obama administration. I remained in DC as assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. The opportunities we both had working in government were amazing. But were they easy times? Not for us.

So, here’s what I learned about myself in reading the comments about the article.


Can a goat turn into a hero for drug manufacturers?

June 22, 2012 03:06 PM

The TED lecture series is dedicated to spreading off-the-wall ideas, but at TEDxBoston Friday at the Seaport World Trade Center, one theme was just how complex problems can have simple solutions. Sometimes, those solutions involve goats.

Speaker Harry Meade, a senior vice president at a company called GTC Biotherapeutics, described the cost and difficulty of producing certain complicated biologic drugs. Much of the expense comes from growing the drugs in huge stainless steel tanks housed in vast factories. Meade's company has a different approach: Grow the drugs you need in the mammary glands of genetically engineered goats. The genetic work sounds really complicated, but the upkeep is not. The bioreactors in question feed on hay.

Meade's goats weren't the only simple — er, simple-ish — solution to a complicated medical issue. A speaker named Ashifi Gogo described a simple cell phone-based system to identify counterfeit drugs and catch the counterfeiters.

An obvious critique of the TED talks is that advances like these are presented to a lay audience, rather than in a peer-review setting. If you know nothing about biologic drugs — and I don't — it's hard to evaluate claims about goats with sophisticated drugs in their milk. But if it pans out, there's something inspiring about the possibility of goats replacing big, ugly machinery.

Twitter: @danteramos

Aung San Suu Kyi's stirring Nobel speech a reminder that sanctions on rogue states can work

June 20, 2012 11:52 AM

Only the most hopelessly hardened cynic could fail to be moved by the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Burma's human rights heroine Aung San Suu Kyi delivered Saturday in Oslo — 21 years after learning, while under house arrest, that she had won the prize. Her address to the Nobel committee conveyed the qualities of character that have made her, over 24 hard years, the embodiment of resistance to Burma's military dictatorship. Her unaffected tone of self-mockery, her Buddhist commitment to non-violence and the quest for harmony in self and society, her steely insistence that the generals who turned her country into their own resource-rich preserve must complete the reform process they have begun — these were some of the rare leadership traits she displayed in Oslo.

But there are also crucial policy lessons to be drawn from her Nobel talk. Suu Kyi is free today after 15 years of confinement under house arrest, she has become a member of Burma's military-dominated Parliament, and she has a passport to travel. But none of this would have been possible without US and European sanctions that forced one of the world's most vicious regimes to undertake a still-tenuous course change. Anyone who doubts that sanctions can be effective, at least in certain specific cases, need only consider what Suu Kyi has said about the success of sanctions — and contemplate the initial reforms permitted by the Burmese junta.


In courting small-town vote in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney avoids the usual rural cliches

June 15, 2012 07:26 PM

STRATHAM, N.H. — Mitt Romney’s kickoff of his “Every Town Counts” bus tour of six states, from the farm in New Hampshire where he announced his latest run for the presidency, was a mostly familiar affair, down to the predictably mocking “Every Millionaire Counts” sign trailing behind an old propeller plane, intruding on the proceedings from above.

Speaking very broadly, Romney cited the American spirit and American values repeatedly, and depicted Barack Obama as a detached and disappointing figure. Nothing surprising there. But when Romney began extolling the virtues of small-town America, which is usually an occasion for Republican politicians to tout (somewhat condescendingly) the moral superiority of rural Americans, he offered a welcome variant on the theme.

“We should never forget that some of America’s biggest dreams were also born in our smallest communities,” he said. “Our small towns have given us great writers, great thinkers, and great leaders.” He went on to mention the Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and the Wright Brothers.

This was impressive for several reasons. For one, if small towns are to be a metaphor for “real” American values, it’s good to locate those values in the highest aspirations of those living there. Thinking big is, indeed, a part of the American character, and it’s what many GOP leaders seem to miss while citing the bake sales, Little League games, and church suppers that supposedly attest to the moral grounding of rural communities. And Romney’s small-town tribute was also notable in that it didn’t depict cities, either explicitly or implicitly, as centers of iniquity; he never tried to contrast heartland verities with coastal decadence.

Romney seemed to recognize that “small town” American values aren’t synonymous with right-wing social policies. They include such politically anodyne attitudes as making the most of opportunities and applying the virtues of free enterprise to the betterment of society. The story of how two bicycle-shop owners solved the problem of heavier-than-air flight that had vexed the great professors of Europe is a foundational anecdote, an American proverb, for a reason.

Anyone who comes from a small town knows that rural values are about more than practicing religion and the right to bear arms, though you wouldn’t know it from most political rallies in such communities. It was refreshing to hear a Republican politician steer clear of the usual stereotypes.

Scott Walker survives recall vote, but Wisconsin remains divided

June 5, 2012 11:58 PM

MILWAUKEE — Scott Walker survived historic outrage in this state to become the first governor in the nation’s history to survive a recall election. Bursting turnout by unionized workers angry over the loss of collective bargaining rights under Walker and by urban residents who felt abandoned by Walker’s funding priorities, was in the end was smothered by support for Walker from suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.

Walker virtually swept the state outside of Milwaukee and the Madison area. In his victory speech in Waukesha, where he was beating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 72 percent to 27 percent, with nearly all the votes in, Walker said it was time to put differences aside and “figure out the ways that we can move Wisconsin forward.”

But the result and the electoral landscape left a Wisconsin perhaps even more divided than when teachers, laborers, and students staged sit-ins at the state capitol rotunda in February of 2011. The reality was that the vast majority of voters outside the cities approved of Walker’s policies, believing the state’s unions were out of control and that urban woes, such as depicted by Walker, the former Milwaukee county executive, also drained state coffers.

Barrett declared defeat as Walker was winning 54 percent to 45 percent with 85 percent of the state’s vote in. He urged supporters to “remain energized, remain engaged” as the state will be a battleground in the November presidential election. They will have to: without a doubt, Walker’s victory demonstrated a level of support — aided by tens of millions of dollars from outside the state — that actually grew instead of dissipating in the face of the recall.

The support grew so much that perhaps the happiest man in America, besides Walker, is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Nearly all the scenarios for President Obama winning reelection have Wisconsin as a must-win state for him. With Walker winning on the strength of his attacks on organized labor and by also embracing other initiatives of the far right such as restricting voting rights, the Republican Party is already declaring fresh opportunity in Wisconsin. Walker says he wants to bring Wisconsin back together and move it forward. But the Republican presidential campaign is sure to keep focusing on the differences Walker exploited, moving the country backward.

Huge turnout in Wisconsin's liberal strongholds raises Democratic hopes

June 5, 2012 09:37 PM

MADISON, Wis. — It was only noon at St. James Catholic Church, a polling location in a leafy neighborhood near the University of Wisconsin. But already, Ward 66 supervisor Kris Rasmussen was seeing stunning numbers. In a ward of 2,849 registered voters, she was about to cross the 650th person to come through door.

Adding in 300 absentee ballots that had come in, the ward was closing in on the 1,000 mark. With eight hours to go, St. James had already surpassed the 892 voters who turned out for the primary election to pick a challenger to recall Governor Scott Walker.

“We had 200 vote in the first hour,” said Rasmussen, a non-practicing attorney. “Some of the workers say it feels like double the turnout so far compared to the 2010 election. It definitely feels more like the presidential election.”


Milwaukee's black ministers invoke segregation struggle in calling for anti-Walker vote

June 5, 2012 09:04 AM

MILWAUKEE — While most of the coverage of the Wisconsin recall election has centered on the story of Governor Scott Walker vs. the public sector unions, an equally embittered group of African American ministers — joined by former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson — called Tuesday’s election so historic that they invoked the names of those who fought and died for the right to vote, from southern civil rights workers to the girls killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham to Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

“Every time I go into the voting booth, I think of those who paid a tremendous price, including giving their lives,” said Kenneth Wheeler, pastor of Cross Lutheran Church on Milwaukee’s hard-bitten North Side, during an outdoor get-out-the-vote news conference Monday.

“But I also think of those who if we do not vote on tomorrow, if we do not remain vigilant, will use our indifference and our apathy to take away the rights that so many have fought for, like this present administration who has tried to undercut the right to vote, who has waged a war against unions and collective bargaining, and has balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly.”

After the news conference, Wheeler was even more piercing. Having moved here 25 years ago from Mississippi, he said Walker’s “arrogance” and the Republicans pushing of restrictive voter ID laws invoked for him the 1960s segregationist governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett. Wheeler said Walker’s constant “We don’t want Wisconsin to be like Milwaukee” rhetoric is a bald-faced stereotype of depicting a city of lazy black people who have their hands out.


In divided Green Bay, teachers hope lasting anger at Scott Walker will tip recall election

June 4, 2012 06:19 PM

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Jamie and Allison Averbeck are both public school teachers who believe the anger stoked by Governor Scott Walker’s shredding of collective bargaining rights for public unions remains strong enough to prove the polls wrong and recall him tomorrow night in the nation’s most closely watched governor’s race since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recall victory over California Governor Gray Davis in 2003.

“I think, to be honest, that a lot of younger teachers took for granted their collective bargaining rights until they were taken away,” said Allison, 35, an elementary school special education teacher dealing with children with Down’s syndrome and autism in the Ashwaubenon School District, next door to Green Bay. “I know people who were pro-Walker who say he went too far and are definitely voting to get him out. I know people who despised Barrett the first time around but who are voting for him this time because they despise Walker even more." (Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in 2010, is again the challenger in the recall)

“For so many people, it’s personal," she said. "When he cut education" — $800 million to $900 million over two years, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — "he was going after my children. By cutting teachers he was going after their education.”

Husband Jamie, 34, who works in the district helping teachers understand and use technology in their classrooms, was one of the thousands of unionized workers who participated in the globally publicized, drum-beating sit-in at the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison. “In some ways, as divisive as it’s been, it’s also been a silver lining that’s renewed the brotherhood among teachers,” Jamie said. “It’s renewed a spark. I really believe this election is 50-50.”


Successful SpaceX flight may open new era for researchers

June 4, 2012 05:50 AM
Early in the 20th Century, cars and airplanes were awe-inspiring. Today both modes of transport have been domesticated — one can build either a car or a small aircraft from a kit. The successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last month, along with parallel advances in commercially operated spacecraft, puts us on the hopeful path of domesticating space exploration and making it far easier to conduct important space research.

The oft-uttered lament of university-based experimentalists like me has been the lack of access to space. Every time NASA releases an “Announcement of Opportunity” for space-based science missions of any size, there are 30 to 50 responses from which typically one or two are selected for the flight. Even if one assumes that only a third of these proposals are of the highest quality, the still means each launch leaves a lot of high-quality projects on the ground.

According to a 2000 report by the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences, high launch cost has been a primary impediment to placing more payloads in orbit. The argument has been that putting a not-so-expensive experiment aboard a high-cost launcher is not prudent. Those cost concerns are why university space specialists should welcome the new Falcon 9, and the Minotaur built by the Orbital Sciences, which now offer competitive low-cost launch options.

However, even more than 50 years after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 started the space race, space missions remain custom-built projects, slow to develop and expensive to produce. In scientific exploration, the current rate of about one $100-300 million mission per year, along with an occasional $1-5 billion project, cannot support a broad range of experiments or accept the risk inherent in the more speculative — and thus more interesting — explorations. This has led to the “too large to fail” mindset, that only flies flight-proven, not state-of-the-art, technology. To make the next leap, companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences must turn space missions into a volume commodity.


Confident of victory in Wisconsin recall election, Republicans see omen for November

June 3, 2012 09:34 PM

GLENMORE, Wisc. — Even on a gorgeous June morning that graced the Brown County Dairy Breakfast, even on a sweeping emerald farm-scape lined with the progressive image of several wind turbines, the turbulence and the fissures of the Wisconsin recall election hissed through.

Both Governor Scott Walker and his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, attended and took turns serving eggs to some of the 6,000 people coming through the chow line. After Barrett's shift ended, he stood between two lines of people waiting for food and started shaking their hands.

At least two men refused to shake Barrett's hand, saying they were Walker supporters. Barrett kept his hand outward, saying, "This is America."

I asked Barrett asked about the encounters at a media conference near rows of sizzling sausages. He said, "This is a new occurrence. Whenever that happens, I keep my hand out and say 'This is America.' Usually, not always, people smile and say Yep, it's America.' I'm literally extending my hand to those people who don't want me because at the end of the day we're all Americans, we're all Wisconsinites and we do have to work together."

One of the men who did not shake his hand was Bill Frank, an actuary from the Brown County town of Lawrence. Father of three children, Frank said, "Walker is doing what needs to be done for the state. I just didn't want to do anything to show any support to Barrett."

Brown County is a clear epicenter of this seismic election. Best known for a playing field of another kind — Lambeau Field and its Green Bay Packers — the county has been huge in presidential politics, often in the top echelon of counties in the US that see multiple visits by candidates. President Obama, a Democrat, won here, 54 percent to 45 percent after Republican President Bush won here both in 2004 and 2000. In 2010, Walker won here 56 to 42 percent.


Time for Mass. lawmakers to close abusive Judge Rotenberg Center

June 3, 2012 09:14 AM

Campaigners rallied in the rain outside the State House on Saturday to protest the use of painful electric shocks on children with developmental disabilities and psychiatric diagnoses — a cause that seemed as if it must have come from a different age or political regime, not enlightened 21st century Massachusetts.

Yet here it was, and here too were civil rights and disability advocates determined to persuade the Massachusetts legislature to support a budget amendment that bans the use of “aversives” on vulnerable students. Only one school in the country — the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton — is believed to administer such techniques. The State Senate voted May 23 to include the ban in the state budget, and it will go to the budget conference committee for consideration later this month.

Protestors held umbrellas in one hand, signs in the other: “The JRC tortures kids on your tax dollars!” An oversize puppet reared up above them, pressing a red button to simulate administering an electric shock.


Scott Brown should accept Elizabeth Warren's debate challenge

June 2, 2012 05:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats faced a dilemma on Saturday: whether to value ruthless electoral efficiency or to honor the party’s putative spirit of inclusion.

Or, to put it another way: Should they help Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic frontrunner, by squashing the candidacy of long-shot challenger Marisa DeFranco, thereby letting Warren turn her full focus on incumbent Senator Scott Brown?

Or should they abide by small-d democratic values by putting DeFranco on the primary ballot, knowing Brown could use the excuse of theDemocrats’ contested primary as an excuse for sidestepping Warren until after the September 6 primary?

In the end, the Democrats opted for ruthless electoral efficiency. Warren won the endorsement vote with almost 96 percent of the vote, an unprecedented margin for a contested race and the only time in modern history that a Democratic convention has denied a candidate a ballot spot in a two-person race. It’s the same thing the Republicans did in 2010, when they gave Charlie Baker an unimpeded path by denying rival Christy Mihos a primary ballot spot.

Eliminating DeFranco’s candidacy means that the general election campaign starts now — as well it should for a race of this magnitude. Asked if she wanted to debate Brown this summer, Warren replied: “I’d love to see some debates with Scott Brown. Let’s start. Let’s get started. I’m ready.”

Brown should accept that challenge. He should accept it not because he owes it to Warren, but because both candidates owe it to the voters of Massachusetts.


Democrats showed no mercy in keeping long-shot candidate Marisa DeFranco off the primary ballot

June 2, 2012 04:36 PM

SPRINGFIELD — So much for the sisterhood.

When push came to shove, Marisa DeFranco got shoved off the primary ballot. Winning in November is more important to Democrats than standing behind one woman who wanted to challenge another one for the right to run for US Senate.

DeFranco, the lone Democrat who refused to bow out when Elizabeth Warren jumped into the race, got support from less than 5 percent of the delegates to the Democratic state convention. She needed 15 percent to force a primary. And throughout the day in Springfield, top Democrats — male and female — made it clear they hoped DeFranco would not get the votes she needed.

They also did more than hope. They worked the floor hard, focusing on delegates who might have a soft spot for the idea of democracy and a primary fight, and basically told them they were crazy for backing such potentially damaging concepts.


The Massachusetts Democratic convention's big subplot: who will run for governor in 2014?

June 2, 2012 03:55 PM

SPRINGFIELD — With Governor Deval Patrick having declared he won’t seek another term, one natural source of chatter at the state Democratic Party convention was this: Who are the exciting possible future candidates for the Democrats?

So far, at least, there just isn’t a figure easy to imagine as a future Democratic governor on the horizon — and with his peppery, crowd-energizing speech, Governor Patrick unintentionally emphasized the talent gap.

Of the constitutional-office crew, Treasurer Steve Grossman and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray are both thought to be interested. Grossman, who unsuccessfully sought the office in 2002, falls into the category of competent but uncharismatic. Murray, meanwhile, is probably better described as problematic and uncharismatic.

Ask attendees who they thought would or should run, and mostly what you got back were puzzled looks and shrugs — and the expressed hope that perhaps an unknown but unexpectedly talented newcomer would parachute in, the way Patrick did in 2006.

But there were a few new names mentioned as possibly promising future statewide candidates, though not necessarily for governor.

There was some interest in Scott Lang, the former mayor of New Bedford, who actually is mulling a gubernatorial run. Another mentioned as a future statewide candidate, though probably not for the top job, was Kim Driscoll, the mayor of Salem, who was actively working the convention.

So is she hoping to move up? By political standards, Driscoll’s answer qualified as candid. “I like what I am doing now,” she said, “but I want to see what my options are. I think I have some skills, and I might be able to offer them statewide.”

Another on the mentioned list was Lisa Wong, the mayor of Fitchburg, while another possible candidate is said to be state Representative Marty Walz of Boston, who has proved herself a smart, tough-minded, results-oriented legislator.

So is Walz looking? “I am very content with where I am,” she said.

Elizabeth Warren needed an A-game speech — and she gave one

June 2, 2012 03:31 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Elizabeth Warren is right. Republican Senator Scott Brown would rather talk about her family than his votes.

She did a great job reminding people what Brown voted for and against during his two years in Washington. But a great speech to the party faithful is no guarantee the questions about her family heritage will finally go up in smoke.

Warren needed an A-game speech and she delivered one to Democratic convention delegates. She started off with the tiniest quaver in her voice, but quickly got past the jitters and seized command of the stage.

An audience that has watched an inexperienced candidate duck and stumble for several weeks over questions about her Native American heritage instead heard a confident and eloquent candidate draw the outlines of a fight that resonates in Massachusetts and beyond.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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