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Asbestos legal work could taint Elizabeth Warren

September 21, 2012 02:08 PM

Democrat Elizabeth Warren left a big opening when she failed to tell her side of the story of the legal work she did for Travelers Insurance in a case involving asbestos victims. Republican Senator Scott Brown lost no time using that lapse against her.

At a morning press conference following their first debate, Brown called Warren’s claim that she had actually worked for asbestos victims “outrageous.” Describing the Harvard law professor as a “hired gun”, he said Travelers retained her “to get them off the hook for settlements sought by victims of asbestos poisoning.” Warren, he charged, is trying to mislead voters into thinking of her as an advocate for the little guy, when “there is only one person who has taken the side of big corporations against working families and that’s Elizabeth Warren.”

But David D. McMorris, an attorney whose law firm represents asbestos victims, including those in the Travelers’ case, said Brown is the candidate who is misleading the public. He called the senator’s attack on Warren “completely dishonest”.

McMorris and several union representatives, including Francis Boudrow, the business manager of Asbestos Workers Union Local 6, spoke to the media after Brown’s press conference at his South Boston campaign headquarters. They were there to defend Warren and support her argument that she was helping victims, not hurting them, when she represented Travelers.

“He’s distorting her role,” said McMorris, in a telephone call after Brown’s press conference. “Clearly, he’s doing it on purpose. He’s a lawyer...He’s either a very lazy or inept lawyer, or he’s lying.”

But the case is complicated.

As reported earlier by Globe reporter Noah Bierman, Travelers hired Warren to represent the insurance company in its fight to gain permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits; in exchange for that immunity, the insurance company said it would establish a $500 million trust for current and future victims of asbestos poisoning. Warren succeeded in that mission, successfully arguing Travelers case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was paid $212,000 by Travelers from 2008 to 2010.

However, after she left the case, a separate court ruled that Travelers did not have to pay out the money and it never has. As one judge saw it, Travelers got “something for nothing.”

McMorris argues that Warren was hired “to defend the integrity of the settlement. She won.” What happened afterwards was out of her hands, he said.

That may be. But it’s now in the hands of an opponent who is making it clear he will use every weapon available to keep his job.

What do the Panama Canal and the Big Dig have in common?

September 20, 2012 12:28 PM

What’s a few billion when it comes to construction mega-projects?

In my column Thursday, and another one on Monday, I describe how the Panama Canal expansion project will likely change the way shipping and the global economy function. It is too early to tell; the Canal does not open until 2014, possibly 2015 because of delays due to faulty cement. But the expectation is that a wider canal will allow larger ships to traverse the continent, luring shipping routes from around the world, and possibly opening up mega-deliveries to ports that have not been the beneficiaries to date, including Boston’s port. Boston, like many other ports, has not invested in the dredging or modernization efforts needed to easily accept these post-Panamax ships, though it may benefit from expanded distribution lanes that will bring more commerce here.

But the ties between Boston and Panama are more than shipping lanes. It turns out that one of the major conspiracy theories that animates Panamanians who oppose the Canal expansion as a big investment dream with little benefits to real people involves our Big Dig. The manager of the project is none other than Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB). PB, as part of a joint venture with Bechtel, led both the design oversight and construction of the Big Dig, an effort that was first estimated at $2.6 billion and blossomed into $14.6 billion. The finished project included those concrete ceiling slabs that killed a motorist in 2006. PB also paid a nearly half million dollar settlement with the state. Massachusetts still can do business with PB; it has been in business with the state for years on a number of projects, including the Cape Cod Canal.

But here in Panama, the relatively small price-tag that is delivered publicly is viewed as another PB “markdown.” The entire expansion including new canals, more efficient locking systems, and wider space for bigger ships is just $5.25 billion according to PB’s assessment, a number that even its former chief engineer called exceedingly lowballed. The number matters, of course, because the Panama Canal Authority Board (ACP), which governs the Canal, is paying for half of the price-tag through fees it is collecting at the port. The other half is from public banking investments. Even after PB’s troubles in Boston, and almost right after the ceiling accident, ACP renewed its contract with the company.

I’m not big into business conspiracy theories, though they are fun to read about. PB is a huge company, one of the largest US based engineering and design firms. The truth is that very few international companies can manage big public projects; and the reality is that all major infrastructure efforts (goodness, even every home project) all have cost overruns. But Boston’s woes with PB are alive and well down here at the Canal because there are concerns about possible government corruption and whether the expansion isn’t just a diversion from addressing Panama’s real economic woes. The ACP continues to minimize its relationship with PB, probably well aware that the Massachusetts’ Inspector General in a report about the Big Dig wrote that they came up with their original budget “by applying a largely semantic series of exclusions, deductions, and accounting assumptions.” Maybe if the canal is expanded, on time, and within budget budget, PB might live its reputation down. I suspect we will only know when we start.

A note from Panama: Why I obsess about the world's oceans

September 19, 2012 06:24 PM

Panama — For commentators, columnists, and policy thinkers, there is a certain appeal to coming up with a catchy phrase that helps put the world in perspective and has immediate appeal to readers. It can also help sell books. People seem to embrace these turn of phrases, like Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat" to describe globalization or Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," which has the benefit of being both wrong and right 100 percent of the time, depending on your worldview.

I am in Panama, doing a couple of columns on my never-ending obsession with water and water infrastructure. I didn't know it was an obsession until various friends and readers made it clear that they may have that catchy phrase for me, those few words that will define what I view as just random interests in the global supply chain: The World is Wet.

This shouldn't be a shock. Seventy percent of the earth's surface is water. And yet as a theme, as an animating way to look at how people live and why nations fight (think Suez Canal), water is given little ink. But that may be changing.

As the New York Times highlighted today, climate change has caused significant interest in what lies beneath the Arctic Ocean. When I was in Alaska and the Arctic this spring, I wrote about this phenomenon in two columns looking at what was essentially an ungoverned new ocean that surrounded our shores in Alaska and our interests in exploration. The first, "Under Melting Ice, A Jackpot," looked at how Arctic drilling was likely to alter our access to domestic oil sources and the nature of once isolated towns like Barrow, where I survived a minus-30-degree morning wake up call. Since then, indeed this week, Shell Oil has abandoned its attempts this year to move forward on drilling, having lost its window of melted ice to the oncoming winter climate and some mechanical breakdowns. The other was more geopolitical in nature; as more and more countries traverse the northern ocean, it has become clear that there is no governing law to control traffic, avoid potential accidents, or manage the exploration of resources. "A New Ocean Passage, With Not Enough Rules" was a call for US ratification of the Convention of the Seas, a treaty that has since died a slow death in the Senate by Republicans who seem to view any international agreement as a form of socialism.

But the oceans are changing, and whether it is this or next or the following year, the dynamics of the Arctic will forever alter access to valuable commodities, movement across the globe, and the competition for the Arctic's spoils.

In Panama, that same theme emerges, though it is not Mother Nature that has the oceans moving again. As I write in Thursday's column, the canal had become a bit old-school as ships got bigger, trade got faster, and just in time economies viewed the Canal's quaint system, narrow passageways, and long waits as unnecessary expenses. And so Panama responded, launching a multi-billion dollar effort to lure commerce back, make the Canal bigger and wider, and offer a haven for these new post-Panamax ships that are too big to get through now. With the vast majority of our global supply system traversing through water, those who can manage the oceans have much to gain. My column for Monday will look at whether US ports, including Boston, are ready for these changes.

I am a water person; having grown up in California, I often miss the beach and am an amateur surfer and frequent paddle-boarder. New England may be home, but it isn't in my blood yet. But from Cuba's attempts for off-shore drilling, to the regulation of the Mediterranean Sea as the Arab Spring unfolded and fears of refugees haunted Europe, to the drowning of the island of Kirabati because of the the warming ocean, I have now been alerted to my unacknowledged obsession and the reality that water — access to it, management of it, exploration in it — drives so much of policy. The world is neither round, nor flat.

It is wet.

The Missouri voter ID scandal that wasn't

September 12, 2012 02:03 PM

It’s the biggest voter ID scandal you never heard of. An election in the United States stolen right under the noses of election officials thanks to lax laws and voter fraud.

A primary election for the Missouri State House normally doesn’t draw much national attention. But proponents of voter ID laws have seized on the election, which was decided by a single vote, claiming it shows why governments need to crack down on what they view as an epidemic of voter fraud.

This race, frequently cited by leading voter ID advocates like Kris Korbach, Kansas’s secretary of state, and the Heritage Foundation's Hans Von Spakovsky has been described as an election “stolen ... [with] votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia.” As a result, it has become one of the key examples pointed to by voter ID advocates. It’s a concrete example of an election where fraudulent votes actually decided the result.

There’s just one problem with this tale of voter fraud: it never happened. No fraud was ever found and the only irregularities cited by the courts that heard the case were unrelated to voter ID.

The contested election was a 2010 Democratic primary for a state house seat in Northeast Kansas City between John Rizzo, the scion of a prominent local political family, and Will Royster, a retired airline pilot active in the community. When the smoke cleared, Rizzo had won by precisely one vote, 664-663, in this heavily Democratic district where no Republican was on the November ballot. But Royster immediately alleged fraud. There were a number of voters from Kansas City’s Somali enclave who didn’t speak English who received improper assistance from other members of the community who either encouraged them to vote for Rizzo or may have even directly marked the ballots themselves. There were other issues as well with the adminstration of ballots at the polling places.


Chris Stevens was the kind of leader our country needs

September 12, 2012 12:50 PM

Chris Stevens was the type of public servant that our government needs more of. Stevens was the US ambassador to Libya who was killed in an attack by militants in Benghazi. Only recently had he risen to the top of the diplomatic ranks; he served as a Senate staffer for Republican Senator Richard Lugar and was a career State Department officer throughout the Middle East for most of the past decade. He was assigned to Libya soon after the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi began. As he gained the trust of both the Obama administration and the disparate Libyan factions, he rose to become ambassador.

He was also a friend of mine, someone I got to know on the tennis court. Our talks were never policy heavy; in fact, he would hear more from me about the federal budget than I would from him about rising through the ranks at Foggy Bottom. But I learned enough about him to know that he was a thoughtful listener, one who never made presumptions about someone because of the side they were on. In other words, he was well suited to be a diplomat.

One of the few times I saw his passion break through was when he talked about a meeting between foreign and US leaders. He recalled one time when he staffed Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting with a Middle East dictator. Stevens said that when Powell walked in, the foreign leader, known for being difficult, as all dictators are wont to be, was being difficult. But Powell was able to win over the room with his presence and his ability — not only to communicate, but, more importantly, to listen. Stevens told me that he wished Powell had gone even further in his career.

When Chris is remembered, the same things should be said about him, because he had the same abilities. It's a shame he is no longer with us, because he was the kind of leader that our country needs.

Remembering when Bruce Bolling made history

September 11, 2012 02:26 PM

Bruce C. Bolling made history when he became the first African-American president of the Boston City Council in 1986.

But in Boston, when it comes to votes for council president, there’s always a back story; and Bolling’s death revived memories of what when down back then, for Michael McCormack, a former councilor who served at the same time.

Bolling had pledged his vote to Joseph M. Tierney, recalled McCormack. But six councilors who didn’t want to vote for Tierney came to Bolling with a counterproposal: If Bolling voted for himself, they would vote for him, allowing him to make history. Bolling at first resisted, because of his commitment to Tierney. But, again, as McCormack recalled it, others, including community activist Mel King, convinced Bolling this was his moment and he should seize it.

“Bruce was the reluctant city council president, and a very, very nice guy,” said McCormack.

Boston Globe news stories back up McCormack’s account.

On January 5, 1986, the Globe reported that Tierney “who has held the gavel five years — longer than any other City Council president in Boston’s history — is clearly the front-runner.”

On January 7, 1986, the Globe reported on what it described as “a last-minute upset” — Bolling’s election “by a 7-6 vote to become the first black in Boston’s history to be that legislative body’s leader and moderator.” In that story, Bolling told the Globe about the other councilors telling him the job was his if he voted for himself. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he told reporters.

Some of the good will evaporated after Bolling quickly suggested he might be interested in a mayoral run. In a story headlined “A Risky Case of Ambition,” Bolling was criticized by McCormack and others for publicly acknowledging that he might be interested in the mayor’s office.

Of course, at the time, McCormack was interested in that office. Competition from the first African-American City Council president was not what he had in mind, when he played a role in Bolling’s ascension to that post.

Tierney, meanwhile, kept his sense of humor about Bolling’s defection.

On January 12, 1986, the Globe reported that then Mayor Raymond Flynn and the City Council gathered for pasta and veal at Mario’s Restaurant in Hyde Park — and “there was much joking” about Bolling’s last-minute emergence as a candidate for president. When Bolling said he hoped they would continue to meet at Mario’s for many years, Tierney, the ousted, ex-president “sang out: You’ve got my word, Bruce.”

President Obama didn’t offer a clear way forward

September 7, 2012 12:33 AM

CHARLOTTE — Barack Obama didn’t soar above the clouds last night. His acceptance speech wasn’t the magic carpet ride he offered as a candidate in 2008.
Instead, it was an address that lived in the real world of limitations and frustrations, one less about hyping hope that acknowledging disappointment.

Obama’s central thrust was an entreaty for voters to stay the course, even though economic progress had been plodding, for middle class voters to keep faith with an incumbent plugging away on their behalf rather than taking a flier on Republican rivals who promised better results without saying how they would be achieved.

It wasn’t until the end of his address that Obama really reached for any oratorical heights, and when he did, it was to beseech Americans to stick with him despite their doubts.
“America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now,” Obama said. “Yes, our path is harder — but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer — but we travel it together. We don't turn back. We leave no one behind.”

That echoed a call for patience that began his address.

“I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have,” he said. “You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.”

Obama did, of course, remind viewers of his accomplishment, prominent among them saving the automobile industry and authorizing the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. He talked of ending the Iraq War, of offering more financial help for college students, and of helping raise standards in education, and took some credit for the increase in manufacturing jobs.

What he didn’t do was outline a clear or compelling way forward. There, his speech shared the failing of Romney’s speech last week in Tampa.

Instead, much of what the president talked about was what he was against. That is, the Romney-Ryan plans. He drew a hard line, and a sharp distinction, on tax cuts. Romney, he said, would cut taxes for higher earners at the expense of programs that help the middle class — a charge that’s basically true — while he would ask upper earners to pay at the higher Clinton-era rates. He also pledged not to turn Medicare into a voucher, but said little realistic about paring back that program, something fiscal experts agree will eventually have to be done.

But he did strike an import chord, and a common bond, on values, talking of citizenship, of shared obligations to one another and to future generations.

This wasn’t the speech of the idealist of 2008. Instead, it was a talk given by a president tough times have turned into a determined realist. It certainly wasn’t riveting. And yet, it did fit the temper of the times — and lay the foundation for the gritty political slugfest to come.

With flip-flop jab, John Kerry turns the tables on Mitt Romney

September 7, 2012 12:17 AM

CHARLOTTE — When John Kerry was running for president, Mitt Romney was a harsh home-state critic. Now that Romney is running, Kerry is taking great delight in returning the, um, favor.

Back during Kerry’s campaign, Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts, portrayed Kerry as an internally conflicted candidate and a flip-flopper.

In Kerry’s Thursday speech to the Democratic convention, the Democratic senator was so intent on making the same charge stick that he alluded to his own classic verbal gaffe from 2004 to underscore that point.

“It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “He has every position. He was against setting a date for withdrawal — then he said it was right — and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was ‘tragic’ to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should've intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to run away from the reporters asking questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a ‘better place’ because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!”

Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also took aim at Romney’s star-crossed summer trip abroad.

“It wasn't a goodwill mission,” he declared. “It was a blooper reel.”

And he appropriated the Romney-Ryan question about whether voters were better off than they were four years ago as he made the case for Obama’s foreign-policy successes.

“After more than ten years without justice for thousands of Americans murdered on 9/11, after Mitt Romney said it would be ‘naïve’ to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists, it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order and finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden,” Kerry said. “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.”


Bill Clinton reclaims the spotlight, boosts Obama at DNC

September 6, 2012 06:02 AM

CHARLOTTE — Twelve years after leaving office, Bill Clinton has achieved a unique status in American politics — part statesman, part salesman, and part chairman of the board of the Democratic Party. All those roles were on display in his convention speech, which was more than a just a personal triumph: It was the case for Barack Obama that Obama couldn’t make for himself.

Even if Obama had Clinton’s skills of persuasion — and, after four years in office, it’s clear that despite the fine quality of his rhetoric, he does not — the president wouldn’t be wise to devote his own acceptance speech to answering a welter of charges left over from the Republican convention in Tampa. Acceptance speeches are about the next four years, not the previous four.

So it fell to Clinton to clean up the damage left over from Tampa. Luckily for Obama, Clinton is the acknowledged expert in this line of work, a reputation that will only grow after this convention.

How can a president who has failed to significantly expand employment be the best choice to do so in the future? If he’s running against someone whose policies would mirror those of the previous administration, which presided over the collapse.

How can a president who reduced projected Medicare spending by $716 billion be the best choice to preserve Medicare? If the reductions didn’t touch benefits, and the savings went to help seniors pay for prescription drugs.

How can a president who granted waivers to states seeking to adjust their welfare policies be trusted to avoid creating a new culture of dependence? If those waivers required that states increase employment of former recipients.

Clinton’s case for Obama was fuller and more robust than those answers suggest — but it was those answers that are likely to be remembered by undecided voters in swing states.

So too will moderate, centrist voters who are frustrated with the divisive tone of politics remember Clinton’s testimonial to Obama’s willingness to cooperate with former rivals. Clinton and his wife Hillary are living examples of that, and so his mere presence at the convention attested to Democratic unity, and a commitment to working together.

For Clinton, the night marked the reclaiming of a spotlight he never quite relinquished, and the assumption of an ongoing role as Obama’s mentor and protector.

For Obama, the night was one of relief, and of heightened expectation. Clinton both reduced Obama’s burden and added to it. No longer does Obama have to expend too many precious minutes of his acceptance speech rebutting Republican charges; the president is free to talk about the future. But he will have to live up to the standards of the Clinton speech. And that will be difficult, indeed.

Michelle Obama urges the Democratic base to keep its faith

September 5, 2012 01:25 AM

CHARLOTTE — One thing became clear on Day One of the Democratic convention: Party leaders are determined to address the so-called “enthusiasm gap” between the Republican base and core Democrats.

Whatever their level of comfort with Mitt Romney, conservatives are eager to oust Obama. Liberals may still be with the president, but their excitement is gone, and many aren’t expected to come out to vote. (Already, pollsters are reducing the Democratic sample in their surveys.) So on the first day of the party confab in Charlotte, speaker after speaker tried different ways to rally the Democratic base, from passionate exhortations (Deval Patrick) to pep-rally boosterism (Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley).

The night’s final address, by Michelle Obama, hit some of the same notes as Ann Romney’s at the Republican convention in Tampa last week, but with an important difference: While Ann Romney was reaching out to skeptical undecided voters, trying to convince them that her husband understood their lives, Michelle Obama was primarily preaching to the converted, reminding them that her husband’s work — and theirs in keeping him in office — isn’t finished yet.

Her speech was a tribute to the virtues of patience and endurance. She attested to the president’s own hard work, burning the midnight oil. And she urged the party faithful, especially those outside the convention hall, to keep trusting him and make an effort to be heard.

“We are playing a long game here...change is hard,” she declared, later adding, “If so many brave men and women could wear our country’s uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights, then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights, surely we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.”

Her plea seemed to be directed with special urgency to African Americans, among whom Michelle Obama has a particularly avid following, and who might not come out in numbers anywhere close to 2008, jeopardizing his chances in states like Virginia and North Carolina. But her heartfelt delivery, and entirely positive message, was probably appealing to all of Obama’s followers, and may even have roped in some moderates as well.

Michelle Obama herself has come a long way since 2008, when she was a powerful presence but raised some eyebrows with a statement about being proud of America “for the first time in my adult life.” Since then, she’s been patriot-in-chief, her husband’s chief ambassador to military families. Her determination to remain above the fray, and to stay out of policy fights, has been rewarded with high favorability ratings.

Last night, she tried to bestow some of her warmth and approval ratings on her husband, who has lost a little shine after all those late nights in the White House. It’s impossible to imagine the Democrats reclaiming the “hope and change” fervor of 2008. Keep the faith and wait for better days? That’s the key to Obama 2012, and Michelle Obama put her own determined spin on the message last night.

Julian Castro tweaks Romney's take on the American Dream

September 5, 2012 01:21 AM

CHARLOTTE — Last week, Republicans spun a narrative of immigrants and first generation Americans who had pulled themselves up through the toil and sacrifice of their families and their own hard work. It served two purposes at the GOP convention in Tampa. First, it showcased some diversity in the GOP’s office-holding ranks — diversity only lightly reflected in the gathering of delegates. Second, it buttressed the Republican notion that with hard work and determination, anything is possible in America.

On Tuesday, keynoter Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, wove a Democratic counter-narrative: Americans who had prospered from their own hard work and the sacrifice of their families, yes, but also because of government-facilitated opportunities essential to the American dream.

Texas was a place that believed in the rugged individual, he said, but though the Lone Star State expected people to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, “we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone.”

He and his twin brother, Joaquin, had met brilliant people attending Stanford and Harvard Law School, he said, but some of their high-school classmates had had every bit as much potential.

“I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive,” he said. “The difference was opportunity.”

To provide such opportunity, Castro said, San Antonio was expanding pre-K opportunities and had started Café College, a program to help students with “everything from college test prep to financial aid paperwork.”

“We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education,” he said. “We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity. They’re a smart investment….We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

The weakness of Castro’s speech was that, beyond public education, he didn’t detail the opportunities he and his brother had benefitted from that weren’t available to others. A listener was left wondering on that point.

Still, his good-natured tweak of Romney’s suggestion that young people hoping to start a business simply borrow from their parents – “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” – led easily into his next gentle gibe.

“Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether they can pursue their dreams. Not in America,” he said.

“I don’t think Governor Romney meant any harm,” he added. “I think he’s a good guy. He just has no idea how good he’s had it.”

Sometimes the most effective criticisms are the understated ones.

Democrats' tribute to Ted Kennedy sounds an off note

September 5, 2012 01:14 AM

CHARLOTTE — It wouldn’t be a Democratic convention without a tribute to Ted Kennedy. The party celebrated his life and legacy four years ago in Colorado, where an ailing but determined Kennedy made his last appearance at a national convention.

And they celebrated him again Tuesday night in Charlotte in a clever video tribute that served a second purpose as well. In one arresting montage, it showed Kennedy facing off with Mitt Romney during their 1994 debate at Faneuil Hall. By highlighting Kennedy’s debate accusation that Romney was “multiple-choice” on abortion, it underlined the Republican nominee’s subsequent flip-flop on abortion rights.

It also linked Ted Kennedy and his accomplishments to Barack Obama and his. And yet, there was an off note as well. The video was introduced by 4th District congressional candidate Joseph P. Kennedy III, son of the unremarkable former Congressman by (almost) the same name.

That gave a coveted evening speaking spot to a candidate who hasn’t yet won the Democratic primary, which takes places on Thursday. True, one of his opponents, Rachel Brown, is a wild-eyed follower of Lyndon LaRouche. Still, the other, engineer Herb Robinson of Newton, is an affable, if underfunded, candidate. Yes, yes, Robinson has little chance of winning. Still, he deserves fairer play from the Democratic Party.

There are, after all, Kennedys aplenty who could have introduced a tribute to the late senator, including his widow, Vicki, and his two sons, Ted Jr., and Patrick.

As for young Joe Kennedy, he may well win election and become a dedicated and effective public official. But that hasn’t happened yet. Right now he seems like a callow candidate trying to capitalize on his famous name. It’s odd for a party that celebrates the success of the average Joe to give this completely unaverage Joe such a high-profile primary-week advantage.

Where do Democrats stand on card-check legislation for unions?

September 4, 2012 09:25 PM

Has card-check become the policy that dare not speak even its new name? Four years ago, the Democratic Party platform vowed the party would push to pass “the Employee Free Choice Act,’” which is the nifty new title unions had given their tired old card-check plan.

Under the Employee Free Choice Act, aka card check, a company would be compelled to recognize a union when a majority of employees signed authorization cards or forms saying they wanted a particular union to represent them. Currently, the National Labor Relations Board schedules a secret election when 30 percent of employees sign up.

Now, given that a secret ballot is as good as it gets when it comes to electoral fairness, union motives are pretty self-evident here. Under card check, an organizing campaign could be run in an under-the-radar way, without management necessarily discovering what was afoot, or offering counter arguments, until it was too late. Second, pressure from peers and union organizers might well secure the signatures of people who, on a secret ballot, wouldn’t vote to unionize. Efforts to push card check, to which businesses object mightily, went nowhere in Obama’s first term, even when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress.

This time around, the party hasn’t explicitly renewed its commitment to the top union priority. Instead, the party manifesto says that the Democratic Party “will fight for labor laws that provide a fair process for workers to choose union representation.”

The platform doesn’t spell out precisely what that means. It should. Current law certainly should be strengthened to protect pro-union workers against intimidation or retaliation during or after organizing campaigns.

But if Democrats still support card-check, they have put a union priority over the secret ballot, which is the gold standard for free elections. If so, they should at least have the courage of their convictions and say so. Voters, businessmen among them, have a right to know.

Lessons for Obama from Jimmy Carter's hometown

September 2, 2012 04:41 PM

PLAINS, Georgia — The tiny town of Plains, Georgia, is directly on the path between the Republican convention in Tampa and the Democratic conclave in Charlotte, but it's not a place Barack Obama would want to stop. This reminder of politics past could be the ghost of Obama's future, if he fails to win re-election. And while the parallels between his presidency and Jimmy Carter's are strained — both were outsiders promising change, but otherwise the men and the times differed considerably — Obama can look to Carter's hometown of Plains for a vision of what a post-one term presidency might look like.

The Carter for President banners still hang from storefronts in this tiny town, nestled in the red-clay country of southwestern Georgia. And passing by Billy Carter's gas station and the old Carter peanut warehouse, Americans of a certain age will remember just how large this cluster of images once loomed. The 1976 presidential election, the first after Watergate, was the most improbable in American history. Jimmy Carter was arguably the greatest longshot ever to pay off in American politics, and a harbinger of the return of grassroots democracy. But on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend there were no tourists in the welcome center, and only a handful of people in the town itself. The Jimmy Carter historical park, comprising the Carter farm and a exhibit at Carter's restored high school, attracted only a few stray visitors, wandering far from the Interstate.

Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter in 1980 and went on to win a second term, is visible only in a group photo at the high school exhibit in Plains, but remains a vivid touchstone almost everywhere else in America: In death, he still defines the Republican Party's ideology and message, much as Franklin Roosevelt did for a half-century of Democrats. In Charlotte, the living, breathing Bill Clinton — the Arkansan who followed a Carter-like path to the presidency, but stayed for two terms — will have a convention day of his own, extending one of the longest acts in US politics.


On an Army base in Georgia, split views on the election

September 2, 2012 01:55 PM

COLUMBUS, Georgia — When it comes to military matters and foreign policy, the election of 2012 is unusual in several ways. The nation is still engaged in conflict abroad — and yet neither Afghanistan nor overall foreign policy itself is an overriding electoral issue. It’s also the first election since 1944 in which neither candidate has served in the military.

So how do military men and woman, their families, and those who live in areas heavily dependent on the military view this election? Interviews near Fort Benning, Georgia, a large Army base, opened a window on some of their concerns and opinions.

Overall, Romney seemed to have an edge, though few people interviewed were truly enthusiastic about him. There was also an undercurrent of concern about how far right the Republican Party has veered. Some found it disconcerting that neither major party nominee had been in the service.

“For me, it’s like voting for the lesser of two evils,” said Krista Watts, 28, whose husband is an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Benning. “It is very difficult for me to get enthusiastic.” Watts, who is pregnant with her second child, said she thought military service should be a requirement for those who want to be president.

Sergeant Major Lewis Worrell, 51, who has three decades of service under his belt, said he had considered Obama back in 2008, but was put off by the controversy over Rev. Wright’s inflammatory remarks, and found it hard to believe Obama could have attended his church regularly without being aware of Wright’s sentiments.

“That kind of turned me off,” said Worrell.

Worrell, whose son is also in the military, had reservations about both parties. He thought the Democrats were too liberal, and that Obama had wasted too much time pushing health care, without sufficient concerns about cost controls. That said, he also thought the Republican Party had veered too far to the right, noting that though he didn’t support an unrestricted right to abortion, “there are times where abortion has a place.”

Still, when he added it all up, Worrell said he’d be voting for Romney.

Yet others who normally voted Republican weren’t so sure. Thelma Swindal, 51, of Phenix City, Alabama, whose father spent 30 years in the Army, said she was only lukewarm about Romney because he hadn’t strongly identified with the military. Swindal was pleased that Obama had brought our troops home from Iraq, but had misgivings about the escalation in Afghanistan. She was open to hearing the incumbent’s case for a second term.

“I can’t wait to hear Obama’s speech,” she said.


Obama's uphill battle for Florida's seniors

September 1, 2012 12:14 PM

THE VILLAGES, Florida — The screened-in pools, golf carts, and manmade lagoons of the Villages, a sprawling planned community of almost 90,000 people, are all testaments to just how well middle-class Americans who came of age in the mid-20th century can live on their fixed incomes.

Interviews with residents of the Villages who had come to one of the community’s picturesque town squares to shop or eat showed the importance they attach to both Social Security and Medicare — but also the problem Democrats face in drawing distinctions on the issue.

President Obama and his party are hoping to contrast their longstanding support for Social Security and Medicare with Republican plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program, which would reduce benefits for future seniors. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, has made such a plan the centerpiece of the GOP’s fiscal agenda, and presidential nominee Mitt Romney has put forward a similar proposal.

But there's bad news under the palms for Obama: most retirees interviewed here think he already has tampered with Medicare, pointing to his reduction of more than $700 billion in future reimbursements for medical care for seniors, as part of his health-care overhaul. Democrats insist that that provision won’t affect benefits for the elderly, but rather simply reduces the rate of increase in the amount paid to their health-care providers. But that's not how some residents of the Villages see it.

"The $716 billion that Obama cut has to come from somewhere," declared John Niles, a transplanted Minnesotan who has lived in the Villages since 2006. "They cut reimbursements, so my payments are going up."

Democrats insist that won't happen, but many seniors here are skeptical. And while Ryan's budget proposal, passed by the Republican-led House, included the same cuts in reimbursements, the Republican ticket seems to have sufficiently drummed home the idea that Mitt Romney and Ryan will be restoring the money. Indeed, Ryan and his elderly mother came to the Villages shortly before the GOP convention to drive home exactly that point. Further, Ryan's insistence that Obama didn't merely cut Medicare, but rather took the money to give to lower-income people through Obamacare, also seems to resonate.

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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