This morning, I ran into this guy  when I was crossing the Cambridge Common.  When he tried to pick me up.  I gave him the cold shoulder, which he seemed to enjoy. Oh, well.

It was cool to come upon the whimsical snowpersons  that seemed to guide my way  along the paths covered in deep snow by yesterday’s fierce blizzard …especially after President Barack Obama’s thoughtful talk, last night, about the importance of civility, the American national family and the need  to move forward in a positive way after  the horrific shootings in Tuscon. [ Here’s a link to the speech, in case you missed it:

http://pol.moveon.org/azobamaspeech.html?id=25807-6209466-EecNh0x&t=3]

In fact, despite all the awful things going on the world–or maybe because of them–I’m finding that my neighbors–like whoever made the snowman–seem to be more considerate these days. After the last big storm, I ran into someone from the building next door (who asked me not to use his name) who was clearing snow, water and ice at a crosswalk so that people would not have to wade through deep water to reach the curb. And my downstairs neighbor, who doesn’t have a car, sometimes just shovels out other peoples’ cars for the fun (and exercise) of it.

Actually, I’ve felt that many people have been more neighborly, nicer, since 9/11…tho this group does not include certain Republicans and pundits who seem to get nastier as time goes on. I was shocked to learn that Ben Quayle, Vice President Dan Quayle’s son, who is now, unfortunately, a Congressman, actually said in a campaign ad that Barack Obama is the worst president this country has ever had..and don’t get me started on Sarah Palin’s trigger-happy “mean girl” rhetoric.  Rather than engage in namecalling and derision,  I’ll quit now –and simply  thank whomever built Mr. Snowman for your neighborliness and sense of fun. You really brightened my day!

–Anita M. Harris

I’m still voting for voting for Martha Coakley but am dismayed at the attack ads her campaign has unleashed on her Republican opponent for the Massachusetts Senatorial Seat– Republican State Senator Scott Brown.

Unfortunately, the  ads fail to emphasize the important things Coakley stands for: health reform, civil rights, regulating greed, and finding intelligent ways to fight terrorism.  They disseminate untruths about her opponent who, on Monday’s hourlong televised debate, said that he supports abortion (albeit not late term) and  emergency contraception for rape victims (albeit not if it goes against health provider’s personal beliefs) and, despite earlier statements,  that he believes that global warming is not only natural, but also manmade.

Worse yet,  the ads give Brown  a perfect opportunity to appear reasonable, dignified and unflappable–Senatorial, if you will, compared with the ham-handedness evident in ads Coakley apparently approved.

A  Brown win could end possibilities for health reform in the current Congressional session and beyond.

I’m very concerned that the ads will backfire– and, given my  own strong reaction against them I believe they will. (I don’t want to contribute money that could be used to fund them).

I just hope that Massachusetts citizens will look beyond the ads to Coakley’s strong record of accomplishment amd her belief in a government based on human and civil rights –hold their noses–and give her their votes.

–Anita M. Harris
New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish HarrisComBlog and Ithaca Diaries blog.

I’ve been impressed with Michael Capuano’s record, his forthright rejection of the war in Afghanistan, his progressive stance on health insurance reform, and his staunch support of Massachusetts’ biotechnology industry. 

But all running in today’s Democratic Senatorial Primary–Michael Capuano, Martha Coakley,   Alan  Khazei,  and Steve Pagliuca –have great backgrounds and are outstanding progressive candidates.

Khazei, a Harvard grad, founded the grassroots nonprofit City Year; Pagliuca, a Celtics co-owner,  built a lucrative career in business consulting; Coakley and Capuano are both established public servants–with Coakley elected to Massachusetts Attorney General, and Capuano having spent years as Somerville’s mayor.  

 All  favor abortion rights (against the Catholic Church of which all but Pagliuca–an Episcopalian– not that I care)  are members). All favor the Obama health insurance legislation–tho Coakley and Capuano have said they’d vote against any bill ruling out out abortion funding. 

On last Monday’s Greater Boston, on Channel 2, host  Emily Rooney struggled to get the candidates to differentiate their positions on major issues.  

Capuano seemed most adamantly opposed to prolonging the war in Afghanistan, suggesting that the American mission there, of routing out Al Khaida terrorists, has been accomplished.

Khazei tried to articulate a complex program of economic reform.

Pagliuca focused on the need for  job creation but had difficulty, when grilled, about whether he had suffered as a result of the current recession (I don’t understand why he was singled out on this point, when everyone already knows he’s a successful businessman). .

Coakley has made it clear that she’s a peoples’ candidate–who would readily take on Wall Street cheats. She  came out well when her economic acumen was called into question. (Supposedly, she has only $12,000 in savings–she explained that always been a public servant who is not in it for the money but she’s not stupid;  her funds must be in trust or in the name of her husband, who is a retired Cambridge cop). .

So–how are we to choose? If  not by positions on the issues, is it by background, knowledge, personality or style?

Khazei comes across as earnest, softspoken, a nice guy, smart, well-reasoned, a Harvard grad with nonprofit background, who, from my perspective, also seems  amateurish, and a little bit of an “itch.” (Whose idea was that TV ad featuring babies with adult voices in which Khazei evidently changes a diaper, then holds it up saying, “Someone’s got to clean up the mess in Washington?” Gross!)

Pagliuca is smart, but does not seem comfortable or convincing in his  proposed political role. (There’s that strange ad in which he says he really wanted to be a teacher but by somehow–by mistake?– fell into a lucrative career in business consulting).  I believe he understands the economy and would do well in a position that involved creating businesses and jobs– but that he’d  face a large learning curve  on the national, policymaking  stage.

Capuano is impressive, brilliant, outspoken, in an up-by-the bootstraps sort of way. His ads are geared toward an ultra-liberal, antiwar audience of  Cambridge/Somerville liberals–but do they address the concerns of others across the state?

At the start of Greater Boston, I was in his camp–but when he called Pagliuca  on the carpet, saying   “Steve, you have to read the bill,”  he seemed like an arrogant know-it-all with a humiliating style. While some believe his feisty manner would bring fresh air into a Senate filled with windbags,  I question whether he has the respect for others and the statesmanship needed to get things done.

That Monday night, Coakley hung back, listening, staying out of the fray, coming in to sum up, makin intelligent points. She’s been an elected official, taken unpopular stands. I disagree with her vow to vote against health reform legislation that includes an abortion ban, but believe she’s got much needed practical, statewide experience in enforcing laws, and in taking difficult stands.   I find her ads about growing up in Western MA  tasteful and convincing, and those who know her say she has a firm, but compassionate hand.

I’ve not studied the Republican field because it’s so clear that one of the above will certainly win–and, given the similarity of the Democrats positions on the issues,  I’d be happy with any of them.

In voting, this time around,  I’ll be deciding based on which candidate has the background and talent to hit the ground running–to effectively translate ideas into action with credibility and sophistication at a time when so many major issues are at stake.

The polls are about to open– gotta go.  Coakley’s got vote.

This blog is called New Cambridge Observer–so I guess I should jump into the fray over last week’s arrest of  Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by Cambridge Police Sergeant  James M. Crowley.   

Gates, 58, who is black and walks with a cane,  had gotten out of a cab in front of his home on Ware St, couldn’t find his house keys and, while he and the cab driver were breaking into the house in broad daylight,  someone called the police.

To begin with,  I can’t understand why anyone would impugn the intentions of  the woman who called the police :  911 tapes reveal that she said she wasn’t sure if it was a break-in and that she doesn’t mention race.

I CAN understand why Crowley would insist that Gates  come outside after showing proof that he lived there;  it’s possible, tho unlikely, that someone inside the home was dangerous,  in trouble, or pressuring the owner, in some way.

I can also understand why Gates would be upset: no doubt the incident triggered memories of his own and others’ experiences of deep racial prejudice between white cops and black men.  I can also understand why Gates would  lash out verbally, and why his resistance would trigger the officer’s reflexive  response to an unruly citizen: handcuffs and arrest.

It’s harder for me to understand why President Obama lost his usual cool and say the officer reacted “stupidly” but I’m glad that he  backed off and invited both parties to the White House to discuss the matter over  a beer.

A friend rightly points out that, rather than just let things go each of the parties took the extra step: calling the police; demanding to come inside, pushing back, jumping into a local fray.  My friend suggests that behind all that is fear: of break-ins, of losing hard-won respect and status, of  loosing criminals into the community, of criticism–in a time of war and heightened economic stress.

All true.

But now, news commentators are questioning everyone’s motives. This morning, one of them questioned Obama’s choice of drink for today’s powwow and called  him a racist who hates whites;  another (is it politically correct to mention that her skin appeared to be dark?) that Obama is a “racial opportunist ” whose administration is corrupt, and that he used the term “stupidly” to draw attention away from his difficulties in getting health reform through Congress.

This epiode has often been called a “teachable moment.”  Might I suggest that it’s a moment that has gone on too long? We get it. It’s a moment whose time has passed.

Let me know what you think!

–Anita Harris
New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA, as is harriscomblog.wordpress.com, which focuses on issues related to media, public relations, and HarrisCom clients–such as health, science, technology and the environment.  All entries are copyrighted by Anita M. Harris, the author.

While conservative commentator Laura Ingraham said yesterday on the Today Show that  President Obama has accomplished little of worth in his first two months in office, CBS  Evening News Producer Rick Kaplan would strongly disagree.

At a seminar held on Tuesday at  Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, Kaplan said that Obama’s record  so far has been “extraordinary.”

The “first 100 days” is a construct that began with FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and can be a useful time for judging what policies are most important to a president– before Congress and  administration insiders have  a chance to “carve out turf”… and “start bickering,” Kaplan said.

In his view, Obama has used this period well.

The President  has frozen all of former President George W. Bush’s last minute  “midnight regulations,” ended the  “gag rule” prohibiting mention of abortion in organizations receiving federal funds; put  forth ethics and lobbying bills; and passed the $800B TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) legislation, Kaplan said.

Equally impressive was  Obama’s performance at the recent G20 Summit in London.  “I’ve never seen anything like it,”  Kaplan said. At the meeting of the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, “people  listened and were impressed. When he stood up, it was a proud moment for America.”

At news conferences, “he let the other guy go first. He grabbed President Sarkosi and the President of China; he huddled with them and [got] them to agree on a contentious set of…offshore policies. He makes the deal and at the end, both Sarcozy and the Chinese leader are smiling.

“In a meeting with the Russians on an arms deal, he gets a promise for a summit.  He meets with the South Koreans to talk about their concerns about [that day’s] North Korean missile launch….”

“And as he’s leaving…in an ‘organized leak,’ he said he would allow Cuban nationals to go and see their families and give them money.

“It was extraordinary to see him work the room in a respectful, aggressive, impressive. way. The leaders didn’t all agree with him, but they liked and respected him.”

“He’s had an extraordinary run in just 60 days. He never shows tension, never seems impacted one way or another or angry. He’s the ‘coolest guy in the room.”

Still, Kaplan said, not all is rosy.

For example,   the  President had known  known for weeks that bonuses were to be paid in Wall Street firms receiving bailout money, which made Obama’s  expressed “outrage” seemed hypocritical.  The press “let him off the hook a bit… It’s great to have dialogue, and the press corps is nervous about shaking up the relationship”  at a time [of economic crisis] where everyone is looking for stability.”

Asked (by me) what he foresees for the future of print media, Kaplan said that papers like the Boston Globe must survive,  and that the current “unwinding” could turn out to be healthy in the long run. It will likely lead to new models and  put an end to newspapers driven by owners who are more concerned about investors’ profits than their own communities, Kaplan said.

AMH

The New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

Was surprised last night  when  two Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists locked horns on WGBH-TV’s  Greater Boston.

In a heated discussion of the New York Times’ threat to shutter the Boston Globe if employment concessions aren’t made,  former  Globe Columnist Eileen McNamara, who now teaches at Brandeis, charged that the Times is only out to save itself and doesn’t care about Boston or the Globe. She and host Emily Rooney criticized the Times for a lack of “transparency,” in threatening  to shut down the paper just a week after some 50 reporters were required to take buyouts or risk being laid off. McNamara called for an investigation into how Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. could have  so mishandled the papers’  strategies and finances.

Alex Jones, the former New York Times reporter who now directs Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, said that Sulzberger has long been seeking ways to keep his papers on sound financial footing and pointed out that the Times and Globe are just two  of many papers threatened by  huge operating losses.  With countless subscribers migrating to “free” news on the Internet and advertisers cutting back in the current financial crisis, several papers have already declared bankruptcy.

I agree with Jones  that there’s no point in focusing on the New York Times as the bad guy in all of this;   the Globe is crucial to the Boston and New England communities, which must find ways to keep the paper alive.

The Boston Foundation  has put together a blue ribbon panel to seek with solutions–which might include a takeover of the Globe  by a consortium of nonprofits until the Globe’s economic situation improves.

The Globe reported this morning that both employees and management will be taking cuts in pay and security, and that 20 bloggers, organized by Paul Levy, president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, simultaneously published a post asking readers to submit suggestions on how the Globe can improve its financial position.

(Levy’s blog is at runningahospital.blogspot.com).

I’ve joined the rally in a separate post.

I hope a solution is imminent  because good journalism provides crucial lifeblood to any community. As the so-called “fourth estate,” it serves as a watchdog on government, allows citizens to communicate with one another, and helps organize the thoughts, lives and livehoods of individuals and institution in a democracy.  Broadcast and Internet media certainly contribute to this–but, by and large, it’s  print reporters to do the heavy lifting.

AMH

Anita M. Harris is an award-winning former journalist who has founded a weekly alternative newspaper,  written for Newsday, produced documentaries for WRFM Radio and co-produced more than 100 live panel programs for the MacNeil/Lehrer Report (now the Newshour) of National Public television. She has taught journalism at Harvard andYale Universities and at Simmons College.

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

Look back, move forward

March 10, 2009

In his 3-05-09 post “Probe the Past to Protect the Future,”  Washington DC business-advocate- returned-investigative journalist Andrew Kreig says that the idea that the country should look forward without addressing the wrongs of the recent past is  “nonsense”.

He writes: As always,  justice starts by a review of the evidence. ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant,’ Supreme Court Justice Louis Bandeis famously said. But pest control is useful too.  Either way, strong measures are required to build public confidence for legitimate initiatives on such complex questions as which companies are “too big to fail,” and which ones should pay the price for their terrible decisions.”

The media are unlikely provide much insight,  he implies.

Their income stream is increasingly dependent on affiliated businesses and not on serving subscribers. The major TV networks,  for instance, make virtually nothing form direct customer billings via cable and satellite, although many in the public naively assume that they’re being served via a “marketplace of ideas.”

In fact, traditional and new media alike depend heavily on the goodwill of government officials, plus advertising. The financial reports of the Washington Post, for instance, show that since 2007, it has been making more than ten times its revenue from its education industry affiliates as from its Post subscriptions,  new media are more entrepreneurial and increasingly broader-based in consumer appeal, many of their roots are in fairly recent federal Internet research and privatization policy–and many of their futures are highly dependent on favorable regulation, merger approval and stimulus spending.

Kreig calls for transparency in the Obama Administration’s decisionmaking process and for vigorous public pressure to ensure that current Congressional investigations into allegations of Bush Administration wrong-doing are not just for show.

I’m not anxious to delve back into the murky recent past and don’t relish the possibility of investigations, indictments, or imprisonments. Bytemperament, like Obama,  I’d rather move forward and let it all go.  But as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  I do think it’s important to find out why things went so wrong in hopes that we never have to go through times like those–or these–again.

AMH

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.