Category Archives: Boston

Mass. Senate race: another private equity guy gives it a try

By Christopher B. Daly

In Massachusetts, we are having a special Senate race to fill the seat vacated by veteran Democrat John Kerry when he became president Obama’s Secretary of State. The race features two finalists, each of whom has a classic profile for his party:

Ed Markey, a Democrat who is a career politician, versus Gabriel Gomez, a Republican who was a Navy SEAL and was a millionaire executive of a private equity fund until he resigned in February to run for Senate.

Last night, the two candidates faced off in the final debate of the campaign, ably moderated by my B.U. colleague and veteran television news anchor, R.D. Sahl. Voting is next Tuesday.

In the debate, it appeared as though Markey was trying to do to Gomez what Ted Kennedy famously did to Mitt Romney in the 1994 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. The career-pol Democrat accused the private-equity guy of buying up companies, firing their workers, and profiting the difference. It worked, and Ted Kennedy returned to Washington.

This time, Gomez has steadfastly declined to talk about his major post-military career. He has spent more than a decade at Advent International, making deals. It’s a bit odd that Gomez, who is also a Harvard Business School grad, does not want to talk about business.  Instead, he spends most of his time talking about his service to country (he was an aircraft carrier pilot as well as a SEAL, which is a major big deal) and about how Washington is broken because of partisanship.

Fair enough, but what about his career?

As a public service, here are some articles about Gomez as a businessman — from CNN Money, from Daily Kos, and the Boston Globe. I think the best coverage of this issue has come from Dan Primack, who (unlike political reporters) actually covers business in his work at CNN Monday/Fortune. Here’s his latest. Everyone in Massachusetts should get up to speed on this issue before next Tuesday. Thanks, Dan Primack.

 

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Give the Marathon bomber a fair trial

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here’s my two cents:

As a native of Boston and someone who has cheered at many Boston marathons over the years, I say we should give Dzhokar Tsarnaev a fair trial, which begins with reading him his Miranda rights as soon as he is lucid. To do anything less means that we are falling apart as a society.

The bombing of the marathon was a horrible crime — a violent assault on the persons of those killed and maimed and an assault on civilization itself and all its hard-won gains.

If we in Boston are as wonderful and as “strong” as we have been telling ourselves this week, then we can really do no less that to follow our own laws. We have to acknowledge that, as far as we know, Tsarnaev is a U.S. citizen who committed a crime on American soil. Therefore, he should be tried in a regular criminal court. We should not sink to his level, which was sheer barbarism. Nor should we pretend that he was some kind of soldier. We are not at war, and our courts are open and functioning. (To call him an “enemy combatant” is ridiculous: he was not wearing anyone’s uniform, and he was not following orders. He was part of a fantasy, not an army.)

I will grant that he appears to be a rotten bastard who did not deserve the blessings of living here, but that doesn’t mean we have to panic and throw out some of our highest achievements. We should use this occasion to remind ourselves who we really are — and to let freedom ring, from Cambridge to the Caucuses. All the angry young men in the world should see that we actually are fair, that we follow the rule of law, and that (by the way)  if they mess with us, we will defend ourselves — by following the rule of law.

In other words, we should give him a fair trial — not for his sake, but for ours.

That would be Boston strong.

U.S. District Court, Boston

U.S. District Court, Boston

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The media and the murderer

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s a busy season in Boston media circles for works about the city’s most notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger.

The Boston Globe has a special page devoted to all things Whitey. Amazon can fill a page with Whitey books. Bulger, who is accused of 19 murders and other crimes, is in prison in Massachusetts awaiting his trial in U.S. District Court in Boston, due to start this spring, but he must be the most written-about gangster since Capone.

Right now, the Globe is throwing its institutional support behind the new hardcover Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice. It is written by two Globe reporters, Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, with long years of experience covering cops, courts, and criminals.

Next up (due out next week) is a book by two former Globe reporters — my friend and Boston University colleague Dick Lehr and veteran courts reporter Gerard O’Neill (who also teaches part-time at BU). Their book, titled Whitey:  The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss, is expected to be the definitive biography of Bulger, featuring lots of new material about his childhood and his years in the federal prison system. Lehr and O’Neill are old Bulger hands, having written the landmark Black Mass in 2000, the book that grew out of their reporting while on the staff at the Globe. That was the book that first definitively ripped back the curtain and revealed the corrupt relationship between Bulger and his FBI “handler” John Connolly.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

For hard-core Whitey fans, today’s Globe also offers a column by Kevin Cullen about Whitey’s views on politics. No surprise: Whitey is a Reagan Democrat, sort of. Here’s the column.

For the sake of comprehensiveness, the Globe also has a review today of the Cullen-Murphy book. The review is written by Sean Flynn, a former reporter at the Boston Herald and Boston magazine who now writes for GQ.

An excerpt from the review:

There was a time, long ago, when the legend of Whitey Bulger seemed nearly Shakespearean. His was the story of two brothers who rose from the Old Harbor housing project to rule the city, Billy its politics and Whitey its rackets. It was the story, too, of that neighborhood, where the greatest sin was disloyalty, and how that sense of allegiance entangled a third son of Old Harbor — FBI special agent John Connolly — who recruited Whitey as an informant, then protected him beyond the bounds of good sense or the law. The saga was often cast by Whitey’s loyalists and enablers in a haze of noir romance.

It was never that simple or that majestic, of course, and history and voluminous testimony have revealed as much. But Whitey is a product of a particular time and place, and he cannot be understood apart from either. Cullen and Murphy know this, and they reveal the complicated man amid the swirls and crosscurrents of Boston’s peculiar past.

Still to come: the movies. In Boston, it’s fun to speculate about who would make the better Whitey — Johnny Depp (pirate)  or Matt Damon (homey).

l to r: Depp, Affleck, Damon, Facinelli

l to r: Depp, Affleck, Damon, Facinelli

If you can’t get enough, here’s a reading list to help you feel more knowledgable about all things Bulger and Boston:

The Brothers Bulger (2006), by Herald political columnist Howie Carr.

–A literary curio: While the Music Lasts (1996), a memoir by Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger, the conservative Democrat who dominated the Massachusetts Senate during the 1980s and 1990s. (Fun fact: Billy’s memoir is “A Richard Todd Book” — one of the tonier imprints in American publishing.)

–There is also a shelf of books written by former Whitey confederates, starting with Brutal (2007), by former Bulger henchman Kevin Weeks and the writer Phyllis Karas (who also teaches at BU.)

–Then there are the first-hand accounts by law enforcement veterans who had a hand in stopping or capturing Bulger. You can start with Most Wanted (2012) by Thomas J. Foley, a former colonel in the Mass. State Police, who kept trying to bust Whitey only to be thwarted by corrupt FBI agents. Foley’s book is co-written (which means in all likelihood, actually written) by John Sedgwick, a real writer.

–Finally, it’s worth putting all this in some kind of historical context, and there are two places to start:

The Rascal King (1992), by Jack Beatty, about the life and times of Boston mayor James Michael Curley, and The Boston Irish: A Political History, (1995) by the late Boston College historian Thomas H. O’Connor.

And, from the fiction shelf, two great novels: The Last Hurrah (1956) by Edwin O’Connor and the the marvelous The Given Day (2008) by novelist Dennis Lehane.

Stop me!

Just remembered: if you want to know how to talk like Whitey, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the noir masterpiece The Friends of Eddie Coyle, (1970) by the late George V. Higgins (who also used to teach at BU!).

Class dismissed!

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How many Stonehenges in Boston?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here’s a really cool idea: there are certain days of the year when the sun sets at an exact point such that it aligns with some of the long avenues or whole chunks of gridded streets in Boston. This is a natural fact, based on the fact that the point on the horizon where the sun disappears marches with regularity from what appears to be the southwest to the northwest as the days lengthen from the winter solstice, on ~Dec. 21, until the summer solstice ~June 21. At that point, the process goes into reverse as the days shorten again.

This insight is not new. In fact, it was the basis for many ancient time-keeping schemes, notably Stonehenge in England, where the massive stones are aligned to measure the return of the sun to particular spots in the sky at regular intervals.

According to mapmaker Andrew Woodruff, writing in today’s Boston Globe, the same phenomenon plays out in several obvious places in the Boston area — notably, by own campus bostonhenge_for_WEB900px2at Boston University. One such alignment involves Commonwealth Avenue, a very wide boulevard, which heads straight west from Kenmore Square to Packard’s Corner with great unobstructed views. The next alignment of the setting sun is due to occur on April 4-5, followed by another shot on Sept. 6-7. (The same thing works in reverse for sunrises, but I am omitting those because I have no intention of getting to work that early and neither, apparently, do the overwhelming majority of my students.)

According to this sunset calculator, the sun should be setting on April 4 at 7:14 p.m. Since it’s a Thursday, I will be in class until 5 p.m., then back in my office, which is actually on Comm Ave. So, to be on the safe side, I plan to step out onto the avenue around 7:00. I plan to turn left and start shooting photos. If I make it to the high point where Comm Ave crosses over the Mass Pike in time, I should have a great vantage point, about a mile east and west.

See you there. I’m just hoping it’s not raining.

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On April 4, I

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Another one bites the dust

By Chris Daly

This is not another nostalgic piece about the demise of Filene’s Basement, prompted by today’s stories about the closing of the “legendary” discount retailer. (Fact is: I never really liked the place that much; in order to take full advantage of Filene’s Basement, you had to go there a lot, and I hate shopping, so it was not for me.) For people who care about the news business, the thorn on this withered rose is that there goes another source of display advertising for Boston-area newspapers.

When I was a kid delivering those newspapers in the 1960s, Filene’s department store (and not just the basement) did battle with Jordan Marsh from their proud flagship stores facing each other across Summer Street, and they competed with a slew of other department stores as well, including Gilchrist’s and some others I have forgotten. Back then, when those stores had “white sales” or wanted to tout their new fall fashions, or get ride of some extra mattresses, they took full-page ads in the big dailies.

Now, the area known as Downtown Crossing is literally a hole in the ground, from which no advertising dollars escape.

 

 

 

 

 

This is part of the reason that the Globe and the Herald are shells of their former selves. One of their most important revenue streams simply dried up — and shows no signs of ever gushing again.

Footnote: a whimper-out to Globe staff photographer Suzanne Kreiter for having her photo chosen to illustrate today’s story. The last-century photo dates from the heyday: 1988.

 

 

 

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Terror v. Freedom

by Chris Daly 

A trial taking place in U.S. District Court in Boston deserves more attention than it has been getting. This is a criminal trial, pitting the United States government (in the form of the U.S. Justice Dept) against one of its citizens (in the person of Tarek Mehanna, of suburban Sudbury).

In brief, the government accuses Mehanna of some sort of involvement with terrorism, more specifically jihad.

What I cannot find in any of the documents I have been able to track down or in the news accounts of the prosecutors’ statements is any evidence of any specific criminal action taken by the suspect. The only evidence has to do with allegations of speech, writing, translation, and Web-posting.

Any time the government attempts to criminalize speech rather than actions, that should concern all of us who care about the First Amendment and  the freedom to speak and publish.

Granted, there are some gray areas in law. One has to do with conspiracy. If you speak to your fellow criminals in the planning of a crime, that could be a crime. That is one reason that conspiracy is such a standby of prosecutors. Another gray area involving speech and crime involves the legal doctrine of incitement, which can be extended to such areas as hate speech and “fighting words.” If you use words to directly encourage someone else to commit a crime or to provoke them, you may be guilty of inciting the commission of a crime. I would acknowledge that those are varieties of speech that might, in limited circumstances, justify the criminalization of certain kinds of speech.

In the case of Tarek Mehanna, the evidence presented thus far does not look all that compelling. He may have attempted to conspire with Al Qaeda, but they appear to have given him the brush-off. (Is there such a crime as attempted conspiracy?) He may also have attempted to incite his co-religionists to rise up and slay the infidels, but they appear to have ignored him. (Is there such a crime as attempted incitement?)

One odd feature of the case is that the government has not been very forthcoming in providing documents. Neither the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston nor the U.S. District Court is making it easy for citizens to follow along. Neither is Mehanna’s able defense attorney, Jay Carney.

So far, the biggest trove of documents has been  posted by an outfit that calls itself “Free Tarek.” So, as always, consider the source.

To be continued. . .

 

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Hub Man Dies in L.A.

By Chris Daly

Norman Corwin, a Boston native who was not as well known here as he deserved to be, has died at the age of 101 after a long career in radio. Corwin, whose life spanned the birth, rise and decline of radio as a medium for serious popular drama, was a writer, producer, and director.

Erwin Corwin (photo by Carl Nesensohn/AP, via Washington Post)

You can read about him in these places:

The L.A. Times, which has the longest version (typical). Includes a photo gallery.

The New York Times, which includes some useful links.

The Washington Post, which also includes a photo gallery.

And NPR, which carries on the best traditions of American radio more or less alone, also has several sound galleries where you can hear Corwin or his works.

 

(Note to my students: we are going to see Corwin in a video next week in class. He appears in the Ken Burns film “Empire of the Air” about the history of radio.)

 

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The Mobster and the Tipster

By Chris Daly 

More reasons to enjoy life in one of the last remaining two-newspaper cities in America. The Globe and the Herald continue to bash each other (as they should), sometimes at the risk of sounding silly.

A brief re-cap: The Globe began this round with a major piece on Sunday about mobster Whitey Bulger. The Herald, acting in reflexive opposition to its bitter rival and perhaps in a bit of pique about not having done that story themselves, let fly on Monday with what looked like a news story in which the FBI expressed its shock (shock, shock, shock!) over the Globe’s decision to divulge the identity of the tipster who led the FBI to Bulger. Since then, it has been back and forth all week with each newspaper using news articles, columns, and editorials to dump on the other.

Here are today’s updates from the Globe and the Herald. As a public service, I am also providing a link to the FBI statement that both papers are bickering over. It is a head-spinning experience to read all three documents in quick succession.

FWIW, here’s my take: The FBI is trying to tell each paper what it thinks they want to hear. Each paper is interpreting the same material in a way that conforms to its own gloss on the story. And on it goes.

In this case, it is not hard to imagine each paper working up just as much outrage over the opposite set of facts. Once a newspaper war breaks out, there are no neutrals. The winner (if any) will be the one that gets more readers out of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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More on Red Sox

By Chris Daly 

Whatever you may think of Keith Olbermann as a cable-TV political journalist, the fact is that his background as a sportswriter supplied him with the ability to critically dissect a sports story. That is just what he has done in his blog about baseball, commenting on a major take-out in the Boston Globe that ran on Wednesday on page 1. The Globe story, by Bob Hohler, found plenty of  causes of death in his post-mortem on the 2011 season.

If you are wondering about the sourcing for the Globe story, I think Olbermann is on the right track by raising the question: Who benefits?

Keith and Terry in better times, 2007. (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)

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Not to be missed

An intelligent discussion of sources (in baseball) brought to us by the good folks at Grantland.

 

 

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