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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Friday, February 07, 2003

More on corporate tax breaks. Kristen Lombardi has a detailed analysis of corporate tax breaks in this week's Phoenix, which hit the stands yesterday. Like the Globe's Steve Bailey, Lombardi relied on the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, formerly the Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts. Evidently Jim St. George got tired of boneheaded reporters using "of" instead of "for."

posted at 10:30 AM | link

What does this mean? An account in today's Globe on Governor Mitt Romney's appearance at the filthy PG&E power plant in Salem includes this odd sentence:

''If the choice is between dirty power plants or protecting the health of the people of Massachusetts, there is no choice in my mind. I will always come down on the side of public health,'' Romney said to an audience that, according to several accounts, tried to overpower him with jeers.

"According to several accounts"? That suggests the reporter, David Arnold, was not actually there. Elsewhere, though, Arnold forthrightly asserts that "several dozen plant workers tried to shout him down" and that plant opponent Lori Ehrlich "was halfway through her remarks when opponents drowned her out."

So which was it? Not a major matter, but I'd say a clarification is in order.

The Herald left no doubt that at least one of its reporters was on the scene, although the Salem confrontation is awkwardly folded in to an account of the previous day's near-wrestling match between Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom and North Adams mayor John Barrett.

At the time of this posting, the Salem News has not yet posted its account online, but it should be there by this afternoon.

posted at 9:56 AM | link

Here's where all the money went. Excellent Steve Bailey column in today's Globe in which he argues that it's time to take back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate-tax giveaways that were waved through the State House during the 1990s. A sickening excerpt:

The Massachusetts corporate income tax has fallen from more than 16 percent of total state tax revenue in 1968 to just 4 percent in 2002. The sales and the corporate taxes generated roughly the same revenue in 1968; today the sales tax amounts to six times the corporate income tax. The personal income tax, which generated about twice the corporate tax three decades ago, today yields 13 times the corporate tax. The Revenue Department estimated last February that eight changes in the corporate tax law to the Raytheons, Fidelitys, and others will reduce state revenue by $382 million next fiscal year.

Bailey reports that Governor Mitt Romney is off to a better start in closing some of these loopholes than one might have suspected, having submitted proposals that would bring in $130 million to $180 million a year if they're passed by the legislature.

Click here (PDF file) for the executive summary of the report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center on which Bailey based some of his findings.

posted at 9:56 AM | link

Correction. Several readers have e-mailed me to let me know that the Mississippi document warning voters that mean old Harry Truman wanted to outlaw lynchin' was not the official 1948 Democratic ballot, but, rather, a sample ballot sent out that year by the Mississippi Democratic Party (which amounts to almost but not quite the same thing). A second look confirms that, yes, they're right and I was wrong.

posted at 9:54 AM | link

Thursday, February 06, 2003

A sobering and depressing moment of truth. Cheer up. At least now there will be new material for Get Your War On.

It wasn't a surprise that Secretary of State Colin Powell showed the UN devastating evidence that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, and is working on getting nukes as well. Nor was it a surprise that he showed the Iraqis are not cooperating with UN weapons inspections. So what was the surprise? This: that even in the midst of inspections, Saddam Hussein is moving his weapons around, and continues to enhance his capability to build and possibly use them.

Count me among those who had believed the inspections themselves -- combined with the two no-fly zones and continued or even tougher sanctions -- could keep Saddam contained, an option that is far preferable than war. But after yesterday, how can anyone reasonably hold to that position? Especially when the evidence is coming from Powell, the most respected of President Bush's foreign-policy team, a sophisticated internationalist who has done much to keep the White House hotheads from going to war.

Let's be grown-up about this, shall we? Powell isn't lying. If he wanted to, he could resign on principle right now and either lead a comfortable retirement -- or win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination by acclamation. The audiotape wasn't doctored, the photos weren't "cartoons," as one of Saddam's thugs charged yesterday. This is real, and Powell obviously believes the time has come to do something about it.

The lead editorials in today's New York Times and Boston Globe -- two leading antiwar voices -- took me by surprise today, mainly because it was the Times that was flaccid and vague, and the Globe that articulated just the right tough-minded liberal response. While acknowledging the power of Powell's presentation, the Times argued, "President Bush should continue to let diplomacy work," and "Iraq still has a chance to change course." Its only nod to the possibility that military confrontation might be necessary was the last sentence: "Because the consequences of war are so terrible, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq so great, the United States cannot afford to confront Iraq without broad international support."

The Globe didn't so much take an opposite position from the Times as argue it in a sharper, more realistic context -- and note how much more effective Powell was than the White House's "fitful diplomacy, its arrogance, and its blunderbuss rhetoric." Although the Globe stressed that the administration still needs to use the remaining days and weeks to build as broad a coalition as it can, the editorial only sees three options for Iraq: a coup, exile for Saddam, or war.

Pardon the long excerpt, but here the Globe gets it exactly right:

So it can be stipulated that the Iraqi people, the region, and the world would be a better, safer, more humane place with Saddam disarmed or out of power. The question is how to effect such an outcome without unleashing the furies of troubles that could quickly follow military action.

Chief among these risks: an eruption of destabilizing violence in the rest of the Middle East; the recruitment of fresh terrorists enraged by what they may choose to see as a war on Islam; high military and civilian casualties among Iraqis and Americans and their allies; and a murky future for a post-Saddam Iraq involving indefinite occupation by the United States, a descent into tribal factionalism, or even anarchy.

Here is where President Bush still owes the American people a fuller, more credible presentation -- to prove to our allies and ourselves that these risks can be minimized to the point where they are lower than the risks of allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power.

This is what I, as an American citizen, worry about the most. Who wouldn't want to see Saddam out of power, the Iraqi people liberated, and their country governed by a more democratic regime that respects human rights? Unfortunately, with reports that the Pentagon may open the war by flattening Bagdhad and killing everyone in it, my fear is that we'll be doing little more than causing intense human suffering and inspiring a new generation of terrorism. Tom Friedman's column in yesterday's Times is worth reading on the difference between quick victory, which is virtually assured, and long-term success, which is anything but.

I trust Colin Powell. I worry about the rest of the administration. Now we are reaching the point where ordinary citizens can do little more than cross their fingers and hope for the best.

posted at 9:50 AM | link

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Joan Vennochi responds. The Boston Globe columnist sends along this e-mail to defend her February 4 column on John Kerry, which I criticized earlier today. Here it is, unedited. Try getting this kind of action from the Globe's letters-to-the-editor section!

Dan: Why hide behind to criticize my column?

However you want to do it, here is my response to you,, or anyone else:

There was nothing silly or frivolous about my column of Feb. 4.

From where I sit, the vehemence behind the effort to undercut it shows real nervousness from Kerry's campaign staff about what tough journalistic scrutiny will ultimately reveal about their candidate. As far as the Boston Globe's recent excellent reporting on Kerry's heritage, the campaign knows ethnicity isn't the real issue here: honesty is.

My column repeated what many others have observed. John Kerry is mysterious, aloof, hard to pin down, both politically and personally.

It spoke primarily from the local perspective: Sure, he may have mumbled something to John McLaughlin in 1993 about a grandmother who converted from Judaism to Catholicism, but that certainly has not been part of his local political persona.

In Massachusetts, we know him best, don't we? As it turns out, we really don't know him at all.

When you think of all the profiles that have been written about the man over the last 15 years, by local and national political reporters, it is quite obvious that he did not routinely present the full picture of who he is. Before you or anyone else starts accusing me of anti-Semitism, let me stress that I am not making any value judgment about the "full picture." I am simply saying that in the past, he made no real effort to set the record straight. Only now, as a presidential candidate, is he visiting synagogues in Florida.

Some may consider that political expediency; others might call it personal disingenuousness. Either way, it's fair game for commentary about a man who wants so badly to be president.

And by the way, if I were Joe Klein, I'd be feeling a little burned right now. Kerry unburdened himself about a lot - but obviously, not about everything.

Joan Vennochi

Just two clarifications for the record: (1) I'm not hiding behind Salon's Joe Conason. I think he makes some good points, but I am genuinely not as exercised by Vennochi's column as he was; (2) Kerry's campaign staff may indeed be nervous, but I've had no contact with the campaign.

posted at 11:28 AM | link

John Kerry -- the Gore of 2004? I took a pass on criticizing Joan Vennochi's column in yesterday's Globe, in which she suggested that recent revelations about John Kerry's Jewish roots -- which, by her own accounting, he discussed publicly as far back as 1993 -- as well as longstanding confusion over whether or not he's part-Irish (he isn't) -- show that, in "a most literal sense, John Kerry doesn't know who he is."

Well, Joe Conason didn't let it go. He lets her have it in his Salon weblog, calling her piece "an unusually silly column" that may be "a harbinger of shallow journalism ahead."

Now, one half-baked column from a generally reliable pundit isn't going to sink Kerry, but there have been signs that some elements of the media will attempt to turn him into the Al Gore of 2004 -- that is, a craven opportunist who shifts with the breeze and will do anything to get elected. Bob Somerby, whose Daily Howler website has documented in exhaustive detail how the media helped sink Gore with false stories such as his nonexistent claim that he'd "invented" the Internet, first wrote about the Kerry-Gore parallels last December 4.

There's an additional danger, too, that when Kerry really does act cravenly -- such as by attempting to have it both ways on Iraq (free registration to the New Republic's website required) -- it will fit into the pre-existing template of his supposed character flaws and be amplified beyond all reason. I mean, I wish he hadn't voted for the Iraq war resolution, but his subsequent critique of President Bush's Middle East policy has been typical Kerry: smart, sophisticated, and nuanced.

Many years ago, the great political impersonator David Frye made an album in which Hubert Humphrey is heard pandering, "I was Jewish once myself!" That's not Kerry. Kerry is a solid senator whose reserved, formal manner is an awkward fit with today's dumbed-down, user-friendly brand of politics. Character is important, but there is no evidence that lack of it is one of Kerry's problems.

posted at 9:50 AM | link

Washington-bound. The Globe announced today that deputy managing editor Peter Canellos, who's run the paper's local coverage for the past four years, will replace David Shribman (the new executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) as Washington bureau chief.

Assessing the paper's local coverage is like trying to get your hands around a big, greasy eel. It's the heart of the paper, yet it also seems to be the hardest for an editor to make his or her mark. Canellos was an improvement over his predecessor, Teresa Hanafin, and he brought in some excellent young talent. He deserves credit for the creation of the Sunday Ideas section. And he successfully made the transition from the Matt Storin era to the Marty Baron regime.

Still, he'll probably look back on his time as metro editor the way some of his predecessors do: as an ordeal that he survived.

posted at 9:49 AM | link

A whole Lott of hate. Is this why Trent Lott waxed nostalgic over Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign? Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich has been passing around a link to the 1948 Democratic ballot in Mississippi. Not to give it away -- you should see for yourself -- but note that Democratic voters are warned that if they fail to vote for Thurmond, then Harry Truman and the rest of those "vicious" northern liberals will outlaw ... lynching. (Update: On February 7 I posted a correction noting that the document was a sample ballot sent out by the Mississippi Democratic Party that year, and not the official ballot.)

posted at 9:49 AM | link

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Indigestion. Today's Wall Street Journal front-pager on New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. begins with an anecdote about his removal of Boston Globe publisher Ben Taylor in July 1999. (If you're a subscriber, you can read it here.) Sulzberger tells the Journal that he scheduled a meeting with Taylor at the Four Seasons to express his unhappiness with the Globe's financial performance, and to extricate him from the publisher's office.

Writes Journal reporter Matthew Rose: "Early in the meal, Mr. Sulzberger delivered the news that Mr. Taylor was fired. They left without eating. Mr. Sulzberger says he 'learned a lesson' about letting people go: 'Don't do it over dinner.'"

Here's what I wrote at the time about the demise of Ben Taylor, who today is executive editor of the American Prospect. And thanks to Cape Cod Media, where I learned about the Sulzberger story a few hours before I might have gone looking myself.

posted at 9:59 AM | link

The space shuttle reconsidered. The debate over whether the space-shuttle program should continue is in full-throated cry. Gregg Easterbrook has an exceptionally smart, and extremely negative, take in this week's Time magazine. He writes:

For 20 years, the American space program has been wedded to a space-shuttle system that is too expensive, too risky, too big for most of the ways it is used, with budgets that suck up funds that could be invested in a modern system that would make space flight cheaper and safer. The space shuttle is impressive in technical terms, but in financial terms and safety terms no project has done more harm to space exploration.

Easterbrook recently established his credentials as a leading critic of SUVs. With space and land taken care of, I can only assume his next stop is the briny deep.

posted at 9:59 AM | link

Museums, night life, and the Central Artery. On a day when the papers are reporting that Mitt Romney's team conducted the proverbial nationwide search before hiring a Kerry Healey hack for a $55,000-a-year deputy lawyer's job (part of the state's "core mission," no doubt), and that House Speaker Tom Finneran is trying to sneak through a pay raise for his top lieutenants (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here), there is good news report as well.

The Globe's Tom Palmer writes that two groups are proposing museums for the Central Artery greenway, raising hopes -- at least my hopes -- that misguided plans to turn it into one big park will be toned down or even scuttled. I'm particularly intrigued by the proposed Boston Historical Museum, which would fill a long-overlooked need.

What's crucial is that the greenway have some buildings and some life, and that it attract people down there 12 months a year, during the evening as well as the day. Those well-intentioned nature advocates seem to forget that this is Boston, not San Diego, and that the weather makes a park attractive only five or six months a year.

Moreover, too much green space will turn the former Central Artery land into a deserted, inhospitable place at night (except to the homeless), making an after-hours excursion about as enticing as a take-your-life-into-your-hands jaunt through the Boston Common.

If you build, people will come.

posted at 9:58 AM | link

Monday, February 03, 2003

Thoughts on the shuttle disasters, then and now. On the day that the Challenger blew up in 1986, my wife and I just happened to be wandering through the TV department of the Lechmere at the Liberty Tree Mall. We didn't see it live, but we did watch those first terrible moments replayed over and over on several dozen television sets, big and small, an awful, surreal experience.

As I recall, WCVB-TV (Channel 5) had its science correspondent, Dr. Michael Guillen, on the air within minutes. I knew Guillen slightly because he was either going out with or had already married (I can't remember which) a woman with whom I worked at the time. These days, of course, he's better known as the former ABC News science reporter who was going to test the claims of the cloning cult, but who backed off when it became obvious that it was a hoax.

This time it couldn't have been more different. I was at a day-long scouting event with my son, and didn't even hear about the loss of the Columbia until a good hour after it had taken place. We kept hearing more in dribs and drabs throughout the day, but it wasn't until late afternoon that I could see it for myself.

It's different in a much broader way, too. With the Challenger, we experienced a lengthy period of national mourning. Space travel was already becoming routine, but these days the space program borders on the obscure. In 1986, there was a celebrity on board, New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. In 2003, the crew was virtually unknown except for Israeli Air Force colonel Ilan Ramon, a hero in his own country but anonymous in the US until his death.

On CNN last night, anchor Aaron Brown choked up for a moment after a particularly emotional report -- a perfectly appropriate reaction, obviously. But at the risk of sounding disrespectful, I suspect that this story -- barring any startling news about the cause of the explosion -- doesn't have the legs of the story that played out more than 16 years ago.

The space program is so peripheral to the culture these days that even when a shuttle mission is taking place, most of us are unaware of it. That takes nothing away from the courage and dedication of the seven astronauts who were killed, or of the others who will take their place. It just is.

posted at 10:06 AM | link

Headline of the day. "Bush Isn't Yet Among the Great Ones" -- the Boston Herald's headline for an Ann McFeatters column in which she argues that it's just a little too soon to put George W. Bush in the same category as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. (No link available.) As's "Best of the Web" would label it: "You Don't Say."

posted at 10:06 AM | link

High and deep. John Farrell has some cute video of his father, retired Boston Globe columnist David Farrell, and his sister, Bridget, playing in the midst of the Blizzard of 1978.

posted at 10:05 AM | link

Sunday, February 02, 2003

A kinder, gentler war plan. It may go unnoticed on this national and international day of mourning for the Columbia astronauts. But today's New York Times carries a detailed report by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker -- which surely would have been on the front page on any other day -- that is a transparent attempt by the Pentagon to knock down the January 24 CBS News exclusive about "Shock and Awe." That's the code name for a war plan -- currently in effect, according to CBS's David Martin -- to destroy Baghdad, and damn close to everyone in it, in an attempt to intimidate the Iraqi army into surrendering.

What's interesting and unusual is that both reports are based largely on interviews with on-the-record sources -- not exactly standard operating procedure in these kinds of turf wars; that each offers essentially the same details, yet adopts an entirely different spin; and that the phrase "Shock and Awe" appears nowhere in the Times report.

Some comparisons:

CBS NEWS: If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan.

NY TIMES: The Pentagon's war plan for Iraq calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign, an effort intended to stagger and isolate the Iraqi military and quickly pave the way for a ground attack to topple a government in shock.

The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and the targets would be air defenses, political and military headquarters, communications facilities and suspected chemical and biological delivery systems, military and other Pentagon officials say.

Having set the scene, the divergence begins:

CBS NEWS: The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

"So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes," says Ullman.

NY TIMES: The air war would be significant for what the targets will not be as much as for what they will be. Because the United States wants to help rebuild Iraq quickly after any conflict, the air campaign is intended to limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimize civilian casualties.

"The challenges in this air campaign will be to achieve certain military and psychological effects at the outset, but have as much of the infrastructure existing when it's over," said Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, a former Air Force chief of staff who is a member of the Defense Policy Board, a panel that advises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In other words, Ullman's Hiroshima analogy has now given way to General Fogleman's assertion that the plan is to keep civilian deaths to a minimum.

CBS NEWS: "You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In 2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted," Ullman tells Martin.

NY TIMES: [T]he air campaign would shut down but not destroy important city services, like water and electricity, so they could more easily be restarted to minimize public health problems.

This is a difference in emphasis. Under both scenarios, Bagdhad's water and power facilities would be targeted. The Times reports that this will be accomplished in such a way that the facilities can go back online fairly soon. CBS doesn't really address that issue, leaving the impression that they'll be flattened.

So which is it? I suspect that Ullman was speaking out of turn -- especially with his shockingly immoral Hiroshima comparison -- and that Fogleman was dispatched to clean up the mess.

Here's the problem. The Pentagon's aim may be something very much like what the Times is reporting. But that assumes what may prove to be an unattainable degree of precision. The goal may not be "Shock and Awe," but that may be the result.

posted at 11:20 AM | link

Vow of poverty. The gag-inducing quote of the day comes from Gerald Levin, the former chairman of AOL Time Warner, also in today's Times:

Mr. Levin, 63, will receive $1 million a year from AOL Time Warner until 2005. His pension, earned over 30 years, will amount to about $350,000 annually, less than the multimillion-dollar payouts of many chief executives. Mr. Levin said he was not complaining. "My needs are small," he said. "I'll be O.K."

posted at 11:19 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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