Monday, February 28, 2011

Boston Globe's Editorial Gets One Right on Liquor Licensing

Of all the editorial pages in Boston, the Boston Globe's isn't always the one we agree with the most. But today, we think they make the right call, and we applaud them for it.

In a strangely conservative fashion, today's Globe editorial calls for a dramatic increase in local control through the abolition of Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and by ending legislative approval of local alcohol licenses.

Abolition of the ABCC is long since overdue. As the Globe says, it's an anachronism, as well as a traditional source of political cronyism and patronage. And, it makes much more sense for local licensing and enforcement authorities to regulate the sale of alcohol across our state. If anything, local authorities could handle licensing and enforcement under the direction of a (small) statewide regulatory commission, preserving statewide standards and acting as arbitrator when necessary.

One thing the Globe did not mention is that, in today's world, the award of licenses to sell alcohol is an important matter of economic development, particularly when it comes to restaurants. Restaurant growth is important in its own right, but eating establishments are also important accessory uses for larger economic development projects. And, any restaurant owner will tell you that it's a lot more difficult (or impossible) to get started if you don't have a liquor license. Local licensing authorities are completely capable of making these decisions without legislative meddling.

But if you want these changes too, don't hold your breath. Liquor licenses are an important pawn in the horse trading that goes on up on Beacon Hill. And taking them away from state pols isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Finally, A Beacon Hill Republican Speaks Out On Unions

We've been wondering over the past few days why Beacon Hill Republicans have been so curiously quiet on the issue of collective bargaining rights, especially amidst all of the attention being given to labor protests right outside their window the other day.

So, we were relieved this morning to see freshman State Representative Dan Winslow (R - Norfolk) step up to the plate to offer legislation on the issue, as reported in today's Boston Herald.

Massachusetts and Wisconsin are undoubtedly two very different states when it comes to our labor history, the role unions play in labor, and our state laws. So, we're not necessarily saying Massachusetts needs to follow Wisconsin's example. But it's beyond dispute that our laws regarding union activity and public employee benefits need serious updating.

Winslow's bill sounds like it's a step in the right direction. And, if nothing else, we're happy to see Republicans on Beacon Hill proposing credible, no-nonsense solutions to problems we're facing as a state.

Message to the GOP delegation: More like this. Please.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama and Patrick: Collectively Bargaining for Union Support

Can someone please tell Barack Obama and Deval Patrick that they are elected chief executives, not union cheerleaders?

Yesterday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick made it a point to attend a rowdy protest outside the Statehouse put on by over 1,000 union members. His public statement to the angry mob:

“I’m here to deliver one very simple message, which is we don’t need to attack public sector workers to make change for the people of the Commonwealth." Link to Source: Boston Globe

This reminds us of a previous incident from 2009, when Governor Patrick hosted a meeting with fired Hyatt Hotel workers and union leaders, and threatened Hyatt Hotels with a state boycott if it refused to hire back housekeeping staff.

“But surely there is some way to retain the jobs for your housekeeping staffs, as other hotels have done, and to work with them to help the company meet its current challenges, rather than tossing them out unceremoniously to fend for themselves while the people they trained take their jobs at barely livable wages.’’ Link to Source: Boston Globe

Meanwhile, the Patrick administration is delivering a much different message to the Massachusetts private sector. For example, on efforts to increase tax collections from Massachusetts businesses next year, Department of Revenue spokesman Robert Bliss reportedly said, "You hunt where the ducks are." Link to Source: Boston Globe

This isn't just a Massachusetts phenomenon. It's also playing out on the national stage.

President Obama's political machine and Democratic party officials are reportedly working to help organize union protests around the country in unity with public labor marches in Wisconsin. Link to Source: Washington Post

AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka recently made comments claiming that he speaks with officials in the White House daily and visits the White House several times a week, while at the same time it's reported that President Obama hasn't spoken with some members of his own cabinet in years. Check out the videos in this link.

Then, there are Obama's recent comments to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he challenged the business community to "get in the game" and spend some of their money to create jobs. Link to Source: Boston Herald

It's abundantly clear to us that leaders in Washington and Massachusetts are firmly taking the side of organized labor in economic matters at the same time they are siding against business interests. Can there be any doubt why? Check out the latest report of independent expenditures in the most recent round of Massachusetts state elections. The list is filled with unions.

We happen to disagree with Obama and Patrick's one-sided support of unions. But, we think that what makes it so wrong isn't necessarily that they are making the wrong choice, it's that they are choosing sides in the first place.

The proper role of a chief executive isn't to pick sides. It's to promote the advancement of everyone. Obama and Patrick would do well to remember that they have a responsibility to help all Americans get ahead, not just those who carry union cards in their wallets.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meredith Warren interviewed by NECN about Scott Brown's new book

Meredith Warren was interviewed by NECN reporter Alison King earlier today to discuss the political ramifications of Scott Brown's new book.

You can watch the full video by clicking this link.

In hard times, proof that the spirit of giving is alive and well

Last night we were guests at a charitable event sponsored by the Greater Lawrence Kiwanis Club in Andover.

It was a fun event with great food and lots of laughs. But, most of all, it was a very successful evening to raise money in support of young people.

Local businesses pitched in with some very generous donations. Private citizens were in a very generous mood too, giving freely in support of the group. At one point, people even joined together to pool hundreds of dollars in support of one specific local family that's down on their luck these days.

It was heartening to see that, even in difficult economic times like these, people are still anxious to come together in support of a good cause. And even though they might not be wealthy personally, they're willing to share what they have in support of others.

In a world where government is often seen as the unifying force which helps people to get by, we think it's refreshing to see examples like this where there is a groundswell of charitable support from the grassroots level. And, while we openly acknowledge a proper role for government in keeping people and communities vibrant, we think this is the way things ought to be.

Congratulations to everyone who was involved with this very successful evening. Greater Lawrence Kiwanis Club, you rock!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Against Brown, Democrats have a full bench but no real player

What do Deval Patrick, Vickie Kennedy, Robert Pozen, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Barney Frank, Mike Capuano, Steve Lynch, Setti Warren, Kim Driscoll, Bob Massie, Marty Meehan, Alan Khazei, Rachel Maddow, Therese Murray, Warren Tolman, Martha Coakley, John Walsh, and Jim McGovern have in common?

Well, for one thing, they're all Democrats. And, their names have all been listed in published reports as possible challengers to United States Senator Scott Brown next year.

We're wondering: What is the Democrats' strategy here?

No doubt, Democrats want to get an early start challenging Brown, who reportedly has already collected a $7.1 million war chest to fund his reelection.

It's possible that these names are just being tossed around by the media, but stories like these usually start somewhere else.

It's also possible that Democrats already have an establishment candidate and that this laundry list of names is being tossed out there by them to suggest an air of vulnerability, or to confuse, or to garner press attention for a possible field.

But, we think it seems more likely that Democrats are just throwing names at the wall to see what sticks -- because they don't have a challenger who's both worthy and willing to take on Brown.

In order to win, Democrats would need someone with star power, experience and a load of money to be willing to take the plunge. So far, at least, no one on the list appears able to put that full package together. And, unless and until then, we think Brown looks like he's in a good position to retain control of "the people's seat" for a full term.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Couldn't Have Said it Better Ourselves

Overheard at a local department store earlier today:

Child: "Mom, what does 'plus tax' mean?"

Mom: "It means we have to pay an extra tax."

Child: "What does that mean?"

Mom: "We live in Massachusetts, so we need to pay a little extra."

And that, in a nutshell, is what thousands of Massachusetts residents go through every single day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Observations on the Crisis in Egypt

This morning, half a world away, there is a dramatic crisis unfolding as millions of Egyptians protest against the ruling government and urge political reforms.

We've been riveted watching these events unfold live on television, not to mention the drama playing out second-by-second in social media. We're deeply concerned about what is happening and what it means. With that in mind, we have some observations we'd like to make.

First, we think it's important to put the crisis in Egypt into proper perspective. Right now the protests in Egypt are being hailed as a pro-democracy movement similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there are real differences, and it is still too early for us to know if we, as Americans, should be supportive of these changes. It remains unclear what forces are poised to take over in Egypt and whether they would be truly democratic or just different, not to mention whether they would be pro-Western. It is also unclear whether the ripple effect of these protests will be to encourage democratic growth in other areas of the Middle East, or if they will result in a crackdown by other totalitarian regimes in the area to secure their position against democratic resistance. Democracy is good, and we should champion it. But, there is real danger that Tahrir Square could become more like the Middle East's version of Tiananmen Square.

This cloud of uncertainty hanging over the crisis in Egypt demands extremely finessed and adept foreign policy on behalf of the United States as founding champion of the "Spirit of '76." This brings us to our second observation. We are disappointed by the lack of any meaningful response to this crisis by both American political parties.

On the one hand, President Obama and the Democrats appear to be disengaged, and perhaps even blindsided by events transpiring overseas. Publicly, the Obama administration has been unable to articulate more than basic statements expressing a desire for stability and for a transition to a more democratic government. The president said yesterday that "we are witnessing history unfold" – which is a fine statement for people like us sitting in our office, but a damningly inadequate statement by the de facto leader of the free world in the Oval Office. And, the private back channel that has traditionally been so important to American foreign policy appears not to be working this time around – and that's deeply disturbing. With all of the regional interests at stake, and for the sake of sending a powerful message to others around the world, the United States needs to do more than simply watch what's happening in the shadow of the pyramids.

On the other hand, Republicans appear to be largely oblivious to the situation, which is equally disappointing. Congress is focused on a bitter dispute right now, but it involves budget spending and abortion rights, not foreign policy. We do not understand why Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trial are not being more vocal about the flat-footed response from the Obama administration and why they have not sought to call for more aggressive action. It is a squandered political opportunity and a failure to fill an obvious leadership/political void.

Third, we think it's worth noting the significant role that electronic media are playing in the protests. Facebook and Twitter are being utilized extensively by the opposition movement, so much so that the government shut down the Internet. At the same time, journalists are finding themselves becoming part of the story they seek to cover, as they get embroiled in the protest and as protesters try to usurp the media to drive their message. And, as cable news junkies, we think it's ironic to note that the world is getting most of its news about this situation from the former host of 'The Mole' (Anderson Cooper) and the former judge on 'America's Got Talent' (Piers Morgan).

Sadly, the crisis in Egypt is not a reality show. It is an immediate crisis that deserves the focused attention of the United States. There is so much at stake for Americans, not to mention the Egyptian people. Egypt controls the Suez Canal, which is of vital strategic interest and serves as a gateway for the flow of oil worldwide. Egypt is also one of few regional allies for the United States and Israel. Our foreign policy must be designed to preserve this relationship and to use this as an opportunity to promote new ties in the Middle East. Right now, this appears to be in peril, and we appear to be endangering relationships with other nations, most notably Saudi Arabia. We need to do more to manage this crisis and promote a desirable outcome.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Boston Herald Gets it Right, Obama Gets it Wrong

Today's Boston Herald editorial page has an excellent interpretation of President Obama's visit to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday.

It's a must-read for anyone trying to decipher where the current administration stands on economic policy:

Boston Herald Editorial: The 'new' Obama

President Obama actually had the nerve to go to the nation's business leaders yesterday and try out his best impersonation of President Kennedy. "Businesses," he said, "have a responsibility to America.... Ask yourselves what you can do for America."

This is the same mentality Massachusetts officials have used when dealing with Bay State businesses in recent years.

"We contend it is only fair for our largest companies to share responsibility for supporting public services they and their employees need and want."
- Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, March 5, 2008

In both cases, it's the wrong approach.

Every business is, at its core, an investment. People invest capital (money and labor) into a business with the expectation that the business will generate a greater return for them.

We acknowledge that government has a legitimate role to tax and regulate within the economy to keep the system prosperous. We also agree with basic notions of good corporate citizenship.

But, businesses already serve the public good just by virtue of being there in the first place and providing jobs and a commercial tax base. In many cases, good corporate citizenship is alive and well. We see examples every day in our own community where business leaders make up the lion's share of those involved in civic organizations and charitable groups.

We don't agree with President Obama that Uncle Sam should be able to consider himself as basically a majority shareholder in every U.S. corporation.

When government demands a seat at the table and makes businesses work to serve the public interest as much as the private interest of their investors, the whole system gets skewed. That's when profits dry up, factories close, and jobs move overseas.

If President Obama wants to get the nation's unemployment rate down and put America back to work, he needs to stop blaming businesses and get out of their way by reducing the regulations that are hindering their growth. Businesses are already walking a tightrope in this economy. Let's not burden them even more.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Pigskin and politics

Anyone watching last night's Super Bowl got a healthy dose of more than just football and commercials. We think last night seemed to be a lot more about politics and patriotism than usual.

Of course, political luminaries like former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were in attendance, while President Obama feted a cast of about one hundred at a White House Super Bowl party.

But it's interesting that everything started off with what is becoming a tradition on Super Bowl Sunday – the reading of the Declaration of Independence by football greats. This year's reading included a dramatic introduction by not just the NFL Commissioner, but also retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Embedded video above; if trouble loading, click here:

Then came the National Anthem, sung by pop mega star Christina Aguilera. While commonplace before any sporting event, this year's National Anthem rendition drew more attention than usual because Aguilera messed up the lyrics:

And in the half-time show, where the Black Eyed Peas coached President Obama on economic stimulus:

Then, there is Eminem's much-discussed ad for Chrysler. This was more than just your run of the mill 'Made in America' ad. It was a full-on dose of patriotism and a sense that the success of our nation's economy and urban revitalization are tied together by a car that's 'Imported from Detroit' (a city that has gotten its fair share of negative press coverage for being a shell of its former self with crumbling buildings and a decimated economy):

Embedded video above; if trouble loading, click here:

There were even controversies about the company Groupon exploiting references to political issues in Tibet and Brazilian rain forests to market good deals on food and bikini waxing:

With all of the political messages it was sometimes hard to remember that there was actually a football game going on. We wonder if it was a deliberate attempt by advertisers to capitalize on political fervor to capture the mood of the country in an effort to sell products, or if it was an attempt by the NFL to reposition football as the new official American pastime (displacing baseball), or both.

What do you think about all of this? Do you think it was more political than usual, or is it just standard fare?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Your vote counts

Have you been following the curious case of the election for state Representative in the Sixth Worcester District? A court ruled yesterday that the election for the seat back in November resulted in a tie, and that there should be a new vote held this Spring.

We think this is a perfect example of how much every vote counts in an election. It doesn't matter what the seat is or who the candidates are. What's important is that every citizen finds time in their day to do their civic duty and go vote. Had one more person voted in the Sixth Worcester District back in November, the result would be very different, one way or the other.

Need more proof? Take a look at the attached academic study, which attempted to assign a probability to the chance of a tie vote or an election determined by just one vote. It's rare, but it happens, and since you're choosing someone who will make important decisions for your community, it's a big risk.

Bottom line: Your vote counts. A lot. Always exercise your right and get out to vote!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Great event for Rep. Shaunna O'Connell in Taunton last night

We had the pleasure of attending a great event in support of newly-elected Republican state Representative Shaunna O'Connell at Runes Cafe in her home town of Taunton last night.

The event was O'Connell's first of the year, and it gave her an opportunity to thank her supporters and talk about initiatives she's pushing in 2011, including election reform, fiscal responsibility and immigration reform. She was also joined by keynote speaker Michael Graham, who was enthusiastic about her recent victory.

O'Connell is one of the promising new representatives bringing new ideas and fresh energy to the job on Beacon Hill. She's only been there a few weeks, but we're already impressed by what we see and we think she will go far.