Tag Archives: Politics

Money & Politics: spending is not the same as speaking

By Christopher B. Daly

Today’s report about the influence of money in politics is the inevitable progeny of the 2010 Citizens United ruling. One of the worst parts of that ruling was the deep misconception at the heart of it: that spending money equals political speech. That flies in the face of common sense, human experience, and two centuries of constitutional interpretation. But we seem to be stuck with it, at least for now.

Today’s story in the Times also carries a whiff of “false equivalence,” because for every liberal zillionaire like Tom Steyer, there are probably dozens of conservatives like the Kochs. They are all seeking unaccountable ways to give unlimited amounts of money to shape our politics. It’s wrong, and we will regret it. Let these same people give all the speeches their throats can make. Let them write all the essays, pamphlets, and letters they like. As citizens, each of us is entitled to use our voices to persuade the others. But having a hundred million dollars does not make any citizen more virtuous, more patriotic, or wiser. It just makes you louder.

Spending ≠ speaking.



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Fun with maps: A U.S. map with equal pop.s

What if the United States still had 50 states but they all had a roughly equal population?

It might look something like this fantastic map, drawn by mapmaker Neil Freeman.

From Pocono to Shasta, from Atchafalaya to Mesabi, this land is made for you and me. electoral10-1100










Funny thing: in this map, the big states in the West are even bigger, because NOBODY LIVES THERE. In this map, places like Boston and Throgs Neck and San Fran get their own pairs of senators, because people actually live here. If the map looked like this, maybe presidential campaigns would be about mass transit instead of guns.



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Whitey Bulger: Life without parole

By Christopher B. Daly 


In the end, the sentencing of James “Whitey” Bulger was oddly unsatisfying. Bulger  — the lord of the underworld, the big man with the killer’s coldness, the guy who struck fear into so many for so long – left the public stage without so much as a whimper. Playing the role of a stand-up guy (or at least, his version of one) all the way to the bitter end, Bulger not only refused to testify, he also refused to even make eye contact with his victims’ families.


To make matters worse, Bulger committed one last robbery: he robbed all of us in the Boston area of the satisfaction of a real showdown with the forces of images-1justice. Bulger should have been on the witness stand (and his testimony should have been on television), but he denied us that. It was a petty crime, compared to all his monstrous crimes against individuals, but it was one more shot at a public that grew tired of him long ago.


His trial over, Bulger will now spend the rest of his few remaining days in prison, where he belongs. So be it. I don’t believe in the death penalty on other days, and I will stick to my position on this one. I will not give Bulger the satisfaction of getting me to make an exception for him. I will choose not to sink to his level. (No more special treatment for you, pal.)


The whole process of putting Bulger on trial took so long that when the final stages unfolded in federal court last week, there was an odd quality of a formality about it. After all, Bulger’s capture took place more than two years ago. Ever since, it was more or less assumed that Bulger would be found guilty and given a life term.


Indeed, the thoroughly predictable and highly scripted process of a criminal trial was overshadowed this year by a lot of other local news of spontaneous origin. In April came the horrible crime of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which a couple of miserable losers decided to try to rob us all of something wonderful — the

Dhokhar Tsarnaev surrendering, with his forehead marked by a sniper's infrared.

Dhokhar Tsarnaev surrendering, with his forehead marked by a sniper’s infrared.

spirit that always used to bloom in Boston on Marathon Monday, a mix of having fun and playing hooky and being nice to out-of-towners and trying to hurry spring along.


That was followed this year (simply in time, not in a great cosmic reckoning, as some would have it) by the quite unexpected rise of the Red Sox, who gave us something of a civic bouquet this year — not by winning the World Series, which was nice but a bit much. No, I think the Sox’ real gift to us this year came from seeing them having fun playing a child’s game as if it mattered and seeing them outperform expectations. All that, plus beards — what a treat.


*       *       *       *


Yet, there is still some unfinished business in the Bulger matter. Whitey Bulger owes us all the answers that we didn’t get when he chose not to testify. He may try to tell his story – on his terms, of course, with a book or letters – but he should have had to sit in the dock, under oath, and face questions not of his choosing.


For that matter, his brother Billy (the former president of the state Senate) images-2owes us some answers, too. What did he know about his brother, and when did he know it? Billy owes us these answers because he was not a private person all those years. He’s not in the same category as the third Bulger brother or their sister. No, Billy was at or near the center of public power during the very same years and in the very same city that Whitey was at or near the center of criminal power.


I will not compare or contrast the two brothers, except to say that as a journalist who covered Billy during that period and who often got the back of his hand, I believe that even rough justice demands that he give answers to the people whose money he spent and whose government he hijacked. No more of his grinning and winking and ducking. What did he know and when?


Other unfinished business?


There’s the FBI, for one. The agency has yet to offer a convincing explanation of how Whitey Bulger could have drafted the FBI’s Boston office into his protection racket or of how the agency is preventing a repeat by some other hoodlum.


Then there is the matter of how anybody could have fallen for the blarney that Whitey was a good guy who was keeping drugs out of South Boston or that Billy was a good guy because he gave away some turkeys at the holidays. Both of the Bulgers got too much power, and we are the ones who let them get away with it.


So, in the end, I suppose, the final reckoning is not with them but with ourselves. That’s a sentence with no parole, no appeal. In a way, we’re lifers, too.


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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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AP phone scandal

A hat-tip to Jack Ohman, editorial cartoonist at the Sacramento Bee

Oh, man, did he nail this one:



(I just don’t know why he had to depict the AP “desk man” as an out-of-shape, stressed white guy with his tie at half-mast. Oh, wait. . .)

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Should corporations enjoy free speech?

By Christopher B. Daly

For no good reason, our laws (both legislative and the common-law, judge-made type) have been moving in a while in the direction of recognizing corporations as “persons” and granting them most of the benefits of being a person, while sparing them most of the downsides (like dying, paying taxes, and feeling inadequate).

The latest flash point in this development involves a petition campaign to try to use the power of government to force corporations to divulge how much the spend on political campaigns and who gets it. Such a move would limit the free-speech rights of corporations — but only to the limit already imposed on us actual living persons. As matters stand, a real live human being who donates to a political campaign has to do so knowing that the donation will be a matter of public record, available for inspection in the records of the Federal Election Commission.

But not corporations. (They’re so sensitive!) No, they are enjoying the “right” to free speech without the responsibility of disclosure. That’s why they were able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the last election cycle to influence our politics (translation: to elect Republicans) without having to inform anyone. That includes two very important groups:

1. The shareholders. In theory, the management of every publicly traded corporation has a legal responsibility to maximize shareholder value. Some shareholders may believe that such a duty does not extend to dropping millions of their dollars into the campaign treasuries of political candidates.

2. The customers. In theory, consumers have power that they can exercise over companies who do things they don’t like, but only if they can find out what’s going on. One reason that corporations like to exercise their free-speech “rights” in secret is so that they don’t have to face backlash and boycotts from angry consumers.

All of this can be remedied with a simple change: The Securities & Exchange Commission, the federal agency that oversees U.S. corporations, could simply require corporations to publicly disclose their political donations. That is no more onerous than what is required of you or I as an individual. In fact, the five SEC commissioners have a petition pending before them asking them to do just that. I hope that the three Democrats on the panel will find the gumption to do just that. (I have no hope that either of the two Republicans will do so).

I’m not familiar with SEC rule-making. I found this page that records comments that have already been received. I don’t see any way to comment on-line. So, I would urge you to scroll over the phrase “Type A,” print that out, and send it by snail mail to the SEC. I’m sure that if I were a corporation, I could figure this out.

For the record: I am not convinced that a corporation (a legal fiction created by the state to serve social purposes) has any rights, but I am certain that they do not have more rights than you or I.


Here’s the text of the comment in support of the petition:


The following Letter Type A, or variations thereof, was submitted by individuals or entities.

Letter Type A:

I am deeply concerned about the influence of corporate money on our electoral process.

In particular, I am appalled that, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, publicly traded corporations can spend investor’s money on political activity in secret.

I am writing to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a rule requiring publicly traded corporations to publicly disclose all their political spending.

Both shareholders and the public must be fully informed as to how much the corporation spends on politics and which candidates are being promoted or attacked. Disclosures should be posted promptly on the SEC’s web site.

Thank you for considering my comment.




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Modified: 01/19/2012




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Math for journalists (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly 

In their own words, Republican strategists explain one of the superficially puzzling results of the 2012 election: The total vote for all Republican candidates for the U.S. House combined were 1 million votes fewer than the total vote for Democratic candidates for the U.S. House. Yes, the Republicans won a majority of House seats, giving them the power to elect the House Speaker.


In this memo, the Republican State Leadership Committee takes credit, saying that Republicans who control state governments used that power when they used the results of the 2010 census to redraw the lines that define House districts. (That job is a responsibility of the states, not Congress itself.) No surprise, Republicans drew districts that favored their own party’s candidates.


Here’s the takeaway:

The rationale was straightforward:  Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn.  Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.





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In China’s censorship struggle, who’s a liberal?

By Christopher B. Daly 

The struggle over censorship continues in China. While it plays out, American journalists are struggling over political nomenclature.

This has been a problem since early in the 20th Century, when first the Russians and later the Chinese and others had communist revolutions. After that point, those former insurgent leftists became the establishment (with a vengeance, to be sure). They often faced right-wing opposition, which wanted to reverse those revolutions and restore the old (dictatorial) regimes.

But at a certain point, those old communist regimes faced a new insurgency — call it “progressive” perhaps? — that was not counter-revolutionary but was not happy either.

In Russia, in eastern Europe and elsewhere and now in China, people began to challenge the regime on the grounds that they wanted real liberation. They demanded such things as:

–rule of law

–accountability of government officials

–free and fair elections


–free speech & press

–economic opportunity

Many of these demands overlap with the cluster of values often associated with classical “liberalism” in the West. But the term “liberal” was re-purposed in the 20th Century to refer to people like FDR who support the use of government power to intervene in the industrial economy in the interest of full employment and economic security for all.

So, by either definition, it makes little sense to refer to those brave Chinese demanding press freedom as “liberals.” They are not exactly “leftists” either, at least not by most definitions. (Granted, they are, in some ways, to the left of the putatively leftist regime they are challenging, but in terms of political labels, it’s pretty hard to put these people to the left of Mao.)

They are certainly not Communists or communists, either.

It often makes sense to call them “critics,” but then China has right-wing critics too. Journalists often fall back on the all-purpose “dissident,” which has its uses and may not be the worst label, in a pinch.

But this is not a simple question, and it appears to need an answer, judging from the comments accompanying today’s Times story. But it will have to wait. Far more urgent, of course, is the issue of ending censorship.







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To: John Boehner

From: Chris Daly

Date: Dec 21 (the day after you lost a vote in your own House)

The first rule of legislative leadership: Always count the votes.

When I worked as a reporter covering the Massachusetts Legislature, I got to see some masters of the game. Above all was Billy Bulger, the president of the state Senate (and brother of accused mobster/murderer Whitey Bulger). As best I can recall, I believe Bulger never lost a vote in the Senate in the five years I covered him. Yes, it’s true that he had a supermajority of about 80 percent of the members. But at a certain point, having such a big majority is no picnic for a leader, because you have so many members that inevitably there are intra-party splits.

Once in a blue moon, the leaders would come across an issue that had no partisan consequence and that genuinely divided the members on something the members cared about. In those rare cases, the leaders would release the members and say, “Vote your conscience” or “Vote your district.” But those kind of votes didn’t count as a loss for the leadership, because the leaders weren’t trying to achieve any particular outcome.

Otherwise, it was all-hands-on-deck. The leaders constantly polled the members, and they had ways of persuading members who were wandering or wavering. And once you gave your word on your vote, that was it. If a member came into the chamber to cast a vote and used it to double-cross the leaders, forget it. You were off to Siberia. No bridges for your district. You’d get the crappiest office in the building — one that might be even worse than the lowliest Republican.

The fact is, legislative leaders cannot afford to lose floor votes — at least not very often. When they do, the members no longer fear them. And if those leaders are low-spending, small-government types, they can’t offer the members a lot of ornaments on their trees. So, if they are not needed or feared, what good are they?

What Boehner’s defeat this week may mean is this: the House is ungovernable. It may be that the U.S. House is not divided between two parties but between three or more. It may be that we need to start learning the ropes of coalition-style politics.

The reason I say that is due to a corollary of the first rule of legislative leadership: the leader of the other branches will only try to make deals with a leader who can deliver. If you can’t deliver your followers, you’re wasting everyone’s time.


The Massachusetts State Senate: Counting the votes since 1713.




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Why I am a Democrat

Why I am a Democrat

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s not because of the “gifts” that I supposedly get from the government, if we are to believe the recent confidential statements by Mitt Romney. Luckily, I have not needed the government very much in my life (so far) except for the blessings that good government brings to all the people – a terrific public education that lifted me to places I never thought I would go; safe streets and fire protection; clean drinking water and wholesome foods; confidence that my country would not be invaded and occupied by hostile armies.

The reason I am a Democrat is simple: on balance, over the long haul, the Democratic Party has been the single most effective agent for progressive change in America.

No, the party is not perfect. We have our own problems. We have our own corrupt and hypocritical leaders. Some Democratic leaders pander; some are slow to lead; a few are corrupt bozos. Democratic administrations sometimes screw up. Some Democratic voters do indeed have their hands out.

But look at the record. Since 1933, the Democratic Party has been the leading change-agent behind the following:

–the New Deal, including the right of workers to organize and the minimum wage

–Social Security

–the defeat of fascism in World War II

–the civil rights movement

–the (eventual) opposition to the War in Vietnam – and to all the subsequent unwise U.S. military adventures abroad

–the environmental movement, including global climate change

–the women’s movement

–the gay rights movement

–control of assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips

–immigrant rights

Needless to say, the Republican Party, as an institution, has resisted each of these long, broad campaigns to recognize the essential humanity of all people and to ensure their rights under law. The issue is not handouts; it is dignity, decency, personal rights, and global peace.

And it’s not as though the Republicans don’t give out “gifts” to their own constituents. If we are talking about political parties that use government as a source of giveaways to their supporters, I would say Republicans do not make such a charge with clean hands.

Republicans spend vast amounts, for example, on defense contracting (even more than the generals ask for). Through tax breaks, they reduce the effective tax rate on many rich Americans to a level below that of the average worker. Through tax expenditures, they subsidize agribusiness, the fossil fuel industry, and a host of other businesses that donate to Republicans or hire lobbyists to look out for their interests. This is the activity that progressives denounce as “corporate welfare” – a charge that many Republicans seem not to even acknowledge.

All that said, I am happy to grant that there are many issues where reasonable Americans can disagree. I will even stipulate that most Americans love our country and have its best interests at heart.

–Should taxes be a little higher or a little lower?

–Should government be a little bigger or a little smaller?

–Should we pay our public bills now or later?

Those questions define the bulk of what we in this essentially conservative, centrist society argue about when we engage in politics. Does anyone seriously think we could not solve those problems if we really put our minds to it?

If Mitt Romney does not understand all this, then he never deserved a role in our public life.

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