Monday, November 30, 2009

Bob Forrant's Seven-Fold Path

Woodrow Wilson rated 14 points. FDR got it done with four freedoms, which is how many Noble Truths the Buddha used. For Bob Forrant today at the UML ICC, there were Seven Ways laid out for helping us get out of the current Great Recession and helping to ensure that we don't find our way back into the abyss anytime too soon.

After warming the audience up with enough dismal economic statistics to remind us how he earned the moniker "Doctor Doom," Forrant began outlining steps that the city and the Greater Merrimack Valley can take to improve our economic footing.

First, some of the most chilling statistics: That 1 in every 4 children in the U.S. today relies on food stamps for basic caloric intake; that the FDIC is now 8.2 billion dollars in the red; that the official unemployment rate in Lawrence is 18 percent; and that if under-employment and the total discouragement of former job-seekers is factored in, we're actually approaching 25 percent of able-bodied, non-institutionalized American adults out of work. Another key statistic -- repeated twice for emphasis -- was that the proportion of workers who've been out of work for 26 or more weeks is now higher than at any point since the Great Depression.

Some of the local problems (9% current unemployment here in the Commonwealth) stem from the bleeding away of manufacturing jobs. In 2000, there were 417,000 total manufacturing jobs in the state; now, there are only 295,000. Nationally, we rank behind all our industrialized peers (except France) in terms of the percentage of our workforce engaged in manufacturing.

As Bob Forrant has said before on a couple local blogs, to include Left in Lowell and, a regional jobs summit involving all the key business and political "players" is needed, and it needs to happen yesterday.

Here are Dr. Forrant's seven recommendations:

I. Allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities like UML. This is an investment in the future that would prevent us from developing a long-term underclass by denying people an affordable education.

II. Support and expand partnerships across Lowell High School, Middlesex Community College, UMass-Lowell and other area schools, esp. in the science and health fields. Forrant called for an expansion of programs such as Governor Patrick's Commonwealth Corps. He cited programs such as the one that puts 15 UML student tutors in algebra classes at LHS. During the lecture and then during the question-and-answer session, it was agreed that there is already tremendous traction in regards to this recommendation -- it just needs to be solidified and expanded further.

III. City and university partnerships for specific 'incubator' programs. Forrant cited the example of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the City of Worcester coming together to put the Life Science and Bioengineering Institute in downtown Worcester just off 290 as a specific case study.

IV. Dramatic expansion of nursing programs and other health career fields between the two major hospitals (LGH, Saints Memorial) and the city's educational bodies. This point wasn't re-addressed during the Q and A, but study after study shows 'health care' as a field projected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

V. Partnerships that will help foster long-term development in the 'Creative Economy.' Internships, training programs, and the use of venues like the recently-opened "The Space" on Western Avenue would help comprise a concerted effort to foster youth creativity and to retain the 'corporate knowledge' that is developed by the generations of Creative Economy participants now living in Lowell.

VI. Expanded partnerships with Merrimack Valley Groups. Forrant cited numerous non-profits and other community organizations as positive examples of citizens working together to educate others about things like how to avoid bank foreclosures and how to navigate the treacherous job market. Partnerships among the groups themselves would enable easier flow of ideas, social capital, and pooling of resources.

VII. Lowell as a center for 'Green Urbanism.' Forrant mentioned that in the past five years, several corporations have moved into Lowell and focused on green issues like building reuse, public transportation, and energy efficiency. Forrant called for Lowell to "build on that core" and see where it can help lead to a blueprint for economic recovery.

Forrant mentioned that when Lowell hit a time of crisis approximately 30 years ago, the opportunity it presented for a new way forward helped spawn things like the Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Plan. We may be at a similar juncture now -- with more economic woes forecast on the horizon and no clear path out of the current joblessness crisis, forward-thinking business and political leaders may be able to chart a course forward to calmer seas.

And at least on that note, even Dr. Doom broke into a smile and pointed to a half-full glass on the podium.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thank You, Cliff

I read this Letter to the Editor in the Sun which started out defending our troops from a claim that we're "swaggering around...with loaded weapons" and continued to spell out why -- and how -- Afghanistan is different from Vietnam. I started to wonder if Cliff Krieger was the author, so I scanned right to the bottom and saw that he was.

Obviously, Afghanistan is not a simple policy problem. Many smart people have dedicated countless hours thinking about the way forward, and they can't all come to consensus. That's because any proposed solution is going to come with tons of 2nd- and 3rd-order effects that we have to try to foresee and maneuver around ahead of time.

I find there are two equally idiotic ways forward that (sort of) come from the right, and the left, respectively. The first is the people who say, "Why can't we just drop a whole bunch of nukes on them and turn the country into a parking lot." That's terribly stupid, inhumane, and would give the rest of the world a righteous reason to hate us for generations to come. The second is the mirror-image of the first, which is some variant of, "Let's just pull everyone and everything out immediately, and leave those people to their own devices." That definitely comes from a FAR better place than the first, but to me it seems equally stupid, equally inhumane, and equally likely to lead to generations of resentment from yet another set of allies we'd leave twisting in the wind.

And you know what the funny thing about people who say the first (let's nuke 'em) and the second (let's abandon 'em) have in common?

Those type of statements never come from people who've been on the ground in Afghanistan or are close to those who have.

Because the people actually doing the work realize that it's never that simple.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gimme Dat Christian Side...What?

A friend wrote about this on Facebook, and curiosity led me to check it out. Apparently, there's some movement among fundamentalist Christians to restrict people to "side hugs" (i.e. hugging by putting one arm around your buddy, hip-to-hip) because front hugs carry the risk of sin, in case either party's, uhh...member might bump into the other person's body.

Anyway, I had to dig into this a little bit to make sure it was real. It is. And the gangsta rappers here in this video are being completely serious, including the particularly asinine moment at 3:35 when the rapper intones that Jesus never gave front hugs. Funny, I've read the Gospels a time or two and never saw any references to that..

If you have just four minutes to spare on this fine post-Thanksgiving Friday, give this video a look. I don't know whether you'll laugh or cry, but you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hey Rex Ryan: Go Pound Sand

I just caught this blip from the AP about how NY Jets coach Rex Ryan felt "disrespected" by the Patriots' decision to throw long even after the game's outcome was more or less determined on Sunday.

I know something similar came up a couple years ago from the Redskins, and just two weeks ago, mighty USC was complaining about an opponent's go-for-two decision while they were being blown out at the Colosseum.

I'll make an exception for youth sports, where far less is on the line, but for any Division I college game, or especially for an NFL game, where this really is what all these guys do for a living, all complaints about running up scores need to cease.

Anyone who witnessed infamous collapses like the Oilers-Bills game back almost two decades ago (the one where the 35-3 halftime lead didn't prove so decisive) needs to understand that these teams play a high-stakes game where the objective is to win. A lot of crazy things can happen in short time spans, so just because you're winning by two or more scores in the fourth quarter doesn't really guarantee anything. More important than being graceful, or not hurting someone's feelings, or appearing un-gentlemanly comes the singular ambition for the "W" as shared by coaches and players whose careers and futures are always on the line.

Anyone who has ever invested their hard-earned time or money (and, yes, time is a commodity that for some is the scarcest and most-valuable thing they have) in following college or pro sports should expect nothing less than the team for which they're rooting to try to win the game.

And winning means scoring more points than the other team does.

If it's late in the game, and I'm a second- or third-stringer fighting to keep my job or get promoted, you better believe I'm not letting up.

If I'm a first-stringer who trains year-round with one goal in mind, you better believe I'm not letting up. If that means testing out a pass play, or trying something out in a game situation, I would do it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being Thankful in New England

The Boston Globe put together this neat slideshow about New England fixtures and artifacts for which to be thankful -- included are references to the Lowell National Historical Park and minor league sports, as well as my personal favorite, the revival of "Main Streets" all across New England (Rockland, ME and Pittsfield, MA got the explicit nods on that one).

Speaking of amazing main streets, the parade in Haverhill yesterday was quite the spectacle. I have no ability to estimate crowd sizes but I think we're talking tens of thousands, between total spectators and participants. I know it was a regional event but I think it was a majority-Haverhill crowd, who consistently amazed me by (literally) opening up not just their front yards but their homes to complete strangers who dropped by for food, grog, and good cheer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sam Meas in Voice of America

Sam Meas got a nice write-up in a Voice of America piece today which can be seen at this link.

Just as a reminder, he's doing a walking tour of Downtown Lowell and the Lower Highlands tomorrow morning, which will all kick off at Market Street Market at 8:00 a.m.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wing, Wong, Uong, Meas, and You: A Panel in Andover

Last night at Phillips Academy in Andover, Jack You (PA '10) opened up with a PowerPoint presentation about political under-representation and participation of Asian Americans (they make up 4.4% of the U.S. population but hold only 1.5% of federal elected positions, and tend to vote in lower percentages than do other groups).

The reasons You cited for the lack of involvement and representation ran the gamut from a lack of exposure to politics, pre-acquired political values from countries of origin, difficulties with English, cultural passivity, and racism.

You was followed by a panel of speakers which included Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian-American to hold electoral office in the U.S. (Lowell City Council, elected in 1999, 2001, and 2003), Leverett Wing (many years of service in Mass. State Senate and a member of Deval Patrick's transition team), Lisa Wong (recently elected to her second term as mayor of Fitchburg), and Sam Meas (first Cambodian-American U.S. Congressional candidate).

Of the personal stories told by the panelists, I thought Lisa Wong's was the most interesting. She talked about how, as an undergraduate, she questioned a lot of the propaganda that came from activist groups that attempted to corral large numbers of protesters for events, but didn't necessarily attempt to inspire real debate. As a result, she held counter-protests and teach-ins with professors to try to appeal to people who sought critical discussion as opposed to just a bunch of chanting and yelling. After becoming involved in community development in Fitchburg, she looked around for forward-thinking local leadership, but didn't see it and then decided to run for mayor at age 28 (she was first elected in 2007).

I asked her afterwards about how the "triple identity" of being female, young, and a person of color affected her, and she was quick to put it in a positive light -- to many of her constituents, that makes her far more approachable than someone who came straight from Central Casting as Hizzoner, the Mayor.

Overall, the tone of the panel and the audience (mostly Phillips students) seemed very balanced and nonpartisan, which I definitely noted and appreciated -- personally, I find it offensive that as a straight white male, no one ever tells me how I *should* vote, but people who consider themselves enlightened and forward-thinking question why a woman or a person of a particular ethnicity would ever vote a certain way (in a way, that is, that runs counter to someone else's preconceived notion).

For the record, I think ANYONE of any race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income level should be able to vote any way he or she sees fit. Any single voter's reasons for doing so are complex and individual, so far be it from me (or anyone else) to prescribe what someone *should* or *shouldn't* do based on the box into which someone else wants to put them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tonight: Asian American Political Panel in Andover

The event description is italicized below. Headliners include former Lowell City Councilor Rithy Uong, Congressional Candidate Sam Meas, and Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong. Event is free and open to the public.

CAMD Scholar Jack You '10 will present “The Curious Underrepresentation: Asian Americans in U.S. Politics” at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, in Kemper Auditorium in the Elson Art Center on Chapel Ave. on the Phillips Academy campus. You’s presentation, as well as the panel discussion and dessert reception that will follow, is free and open to the public.

In a study of immigration history, pan-ethnic dilemma, and voter behavior, You will explore impediments to Asian American political success in the U.S. According to You, Asian Americans have found success in professional fields such as business, medicine, and engineering, but in politics Asian Americans are represented at a disproportionately lower rate compared to the general American population. In 2000, Asian Americans constituted 4.4 percent of the American population, but only 1.5 percent of the elected seats in the U.S. House and the Senate.

Following the presentation, You will present an esteemed panel of experts to discuss Asian Americans and Massachusetts politics. The panel will include Sam Meas, who is preparing for a 2010 run for the 5th Congressional District of Mass; Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he became a Lowell city councilor in 1999; Leverett Wing, former executive director of the Mass. Asian American Commission and former business manager of the Mass. State Senate; and Fitchburg mayor Lisa Wong.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wrangling with Bureaucracy

I'm dealing with a bureaucratic snafu right now.

It was not necessarily anyone's fault in the first place, so I'm not that upset about it. No one's perfect -- a paperwork mistake was made, which is a) understandable and b) something I've done in the past and will do again in the future, so I'd be a huge hypocrite for ranting and raving about it.

Which is why I won't rant and rave about it.

Where frustration reaches a boiling point, however, is in the response, or lack thereof. Like most any reasonable person who can understand the initial error, the next reasonable step I'd like to see is someone e-mailing or calling to say, "Hey, we're sorry, but here's what we're doing to fix it," or even just to acknowledge that it's being worked on.

But that's where the bureaucracy thing steps in and gets in the way. The trouble is, I can't seem to get even a single e-mail or phone call returned, despite earnest entreaties that indicate that all I'm looking to do is get the warm-and-fuzzy that something's going on (I thought that last point was worth mentioning because if I were on the other end of someone screaming or otherwise being rude, I might not return a call, either).

I don't think there's anything surprising, or even original, in my description of bureaucratic wranglings, but if there's anyone reading from the private sector, esp. someone doing something entrepreneurial where he/she has a strong personal stake in the success of the venture, there's something worth keeping in mind -- people are generally reasonable and can forgive minor mistakes. However, easily forgiveable becomes increasingly intolerable anytime you IGNORE someone, whether out of spite, indifference, or a natural tendency not to want to bear bad news.

So don't go that route! The two minutes it takes to put a real, live voice on the line that says, calmly and reassuringly, "Hey, we're working on it," might be all it takes to keep a customer happy and loyal.

Then again, if you're a large, public sector bureaucracy, that was never a concern in the first place...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who You Callin' a Crony?

If you want to read a great piece of reporting about how American policies -- and American money -- can be terribly misguided and misspent, check out Farah Stockman's piece in the Globe from a couple days ago about Afghanistan's wariness to accept more U.S. 'advisors.'

The humor (if you can call it that) behind the story is that we are very quick to label the Karzai government, or virtually any government in that part of the world, as being corrupt institutions where bribery and cronyism carry the day.

At the same time, however, we dictate that the hiring of certain 'advisory' civilian positions to the Afghan government go to self-important, highly-educated but often practically useless Americans with high-level connections to the U.S. Government (i.e. our cronies). If you can believe it, the entire costs of these contracts can be as high as half a million dollars annually. The individual receives a fraction of that, and a sponsor company receives the rest, but as you can imagine, that's a huge cost of the war.

And here's why the Afghans are justifiably upset -- for a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of those contracts, they could hire real talent from neighboring countries like India, get someone who can speak the language competetently and is able to move about the country. In many cases, the 'advisers' being sent now are stuck inside their compounds and haven't the slightest clue as to the culture, language, or customs of the people they were sent to go 'help.' Sometimes through no fault of their own (as in the case of the geologist mentioned in the piece) they're relegated to 'useless' status by their Afghan counterpart.

And sometimes the fault is theirs.

I worked with a Marine Major who was part of a PTT (Police Transition Team). He and his guys -- most very junior personnel who only made peanuts, even in a war zone in western Iraq -- were outside the wire every single day, training, traveling, sweating, and bleeding alongside their Iraqi counterparts.

Also at their FOB (Forward Operating Base) were a group of chiseled and tanned police officers from back in the states who were sent on a very lucrative contract (they were each making $250k, and that's after whatever fees their company took from Uncle Sam) and essentially did nothing. Literally, these guys watched movies and lifted weights all day for that money. There was no chain of command to get them to work, and no enforcement mechanism anywhere in sight...very different, of course, than the case would be if one of the Major's Lance Corporals decided to just 'phone it in' and stay in the rack all day.

I know that the idea of government waste is nothing new.

And I know that a military person impugning the work ethic of civilians is nothing new.

But if we're making an open-ended, long-term commitment to the people and nation of Afghanistan, it might be wise to consider their thoughts and inputs on the situation.

And if they're saying they want a little more say in the hiring of civilian advisers, or maybe if they're just offering us a few hiring pointers along the way, we might be wise to listen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Holidays For the Price of One?

I know there's a strong movement afoot to make Veterans Day a 'true' national holiday; that is to say, to move it out of its middle ground status and place it on par with Memorial Day, Labor Day, or New Year's Day.

Democracy advocates have also been saying for years that we should make our election days national holidays. This, they say, would greatly increase voter participation rates and better-enfranchise many whose long hours and/or long commutes pose real obstacles to voting.

Since the two fall so close to one another already, why not follow through by elevating the status of Veterans Day and making it the same day that we vote?

I don't know what all the barriers here would be, but I thought it at least merited a mention.

A few Google searches before I made this entry showed me that plenty of others have wondered aloud about this, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quitters and Winners

Any kid growing up in America who participated in anything from T-Ball to youth hockey or even just watched an 80s movie with a dramatic training montage has heard the old saw about how "winners never quit and quitters never win" or some variant thereof.

But is that really true?

Conversations with two good friends about their recent life decisions (one recently left his full-time job to pursue his dream of writing full-time, and the other is contemplating a career change of his own), coupled with recent decisions of mine to drop a martial arts class and leave another group led to some stimulating discussions about when it might be appropriate to quit something.

One thing we all agreed on, by the way, is that the hackneyed sitcom-morality-tale tripe about how it's NEVER okay to quit something is pretty bass ackwards, and ultimately serves no one. Whether it's major issues of foreign policy, really serious things like interpersonal relationships, or even just one l'il yellow belt's decision to throw in the white jumpsuit, so to speak, there has to be a time when a smart, adaptive person decides to stop banging his or her head against a wall.

Here are four points that are germane to the discussion, in no particular order:

(1) Even though the thing in question may not be going well, is it providing some useful second- or third-order benefit? The obvious case here would be a job. Even though you may hate yours, quitting might be a terrible idea because the pain of foregoing that income may outweigh the pain incurred by said employment. Of course, if you have six months' worth of *emergency money* in the till and the confidence behind a transition, that could be your ticket out.

There might be other cases where this would apply, too. You may not enjoy your Monday afternoon golf game, but if there's some contact you're making by playing, or some future benefit you think you'll derive from staying current in the sport, it might not be time to go just yet.

(2) Even though the thing in question may not be going well, is there some clear light at the end of the tunnel? To me, the obvious thing that comes to mind here is a graduate degree program. Even if you absolutely hate it, and you can't stand the costs and the foregone income, unless we're talking Ph.D. or M.D., you're at most a couple years away from being done. The degree is the clear *reward* for the current pain and suffering. Obviously, the *light* factor would not apply for something like a steady 9-to-5, or a relationship, in which there's no end date in sight or easy ticket out.

Still, if a friend was halfway towards his MBA, and told me he was thinking about quitting, I'd tell him that I think he's nuts. I might even have to bust out an old Dr. Jason Seaver teaching moment from "Growing Pains" where Mike or Carol learns the value of perseverance through adversity.

(3) Is there a commitment to others? This is probably the trickiest one to figure out, and I think if anything, people are overly likely to tip themselves into thinking there's a commitment when there might not be. Still, what's clear is clear. If you agreed to be the President of the Taunton River Valley Knitting Society for a two-year clip, and you quit after three months without an idea of who's ready to replace you, there is some type of ethical breach to consider. Ditto for anything where there's a clear delineation time/duties/duration, like coaching a youth sports team.

(4) If it's time to go, it's chest out and chin up, not tail between the legs. I know this last point kind of differs from the other three, but I think it bears mention. Many times, because people feel ashamed, or because they overestimate or otherwise misunderstand Question #3, they slink away into run and hide mode. A WAY more honorable ticket out of something is to communicate what you're doing, and why you're doing it, to whoever you report to, or meet with, at said activity. Whether that's two weeks' notice at your job, or it's telling your co-knitters why you can't lead them anymore, there's honor in doing that. However, it's hard to respect someone who goes "RF cold," "radio silent," or just plain MIA without having the cojones to say why, or at least let someone know they haven't fallen off a cliff somewhere.

Bottom Line to all this (just because I know there's a Col. reading who loves that expression) is that yes, sometimes it really is okay to quit.

It should be contemplated, discussed in the open, and certainly slept on, so as not to come across as something impulsive that will later give way to Quitter's Remorse.

And if it's done right, with respect to Conditions 1-4, sometimes quitters really do win, and the losers are the people who stick with sinking ships and the time/energy vampires around them out of a misplaced fear of letting go of a sunk cost or an imaginary fear of disappointing someone else.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why They Invented YouTube..

Anyone who has ever played football, whether in their backyard, a park, or on a team where there were pads, helmets, and referees, or anyone who has ever WATCHED football -- in person or on TV -- will appreciate the amazing athleticism displayed by Cal's Jahvid Best and the scariness of the injury that followed. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Massacre Thoughts, Redux

I read the news today (oh boy?) about the Orlando, FL massacre, which seems to have involved a disgruntled employee killing one person and injuring at least five others.

Of course, I felt a stronger connection to what happened yesterday near Killeen, TX, but any death from an armed lunatic is equally tragic.

And equally unjustified.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fort Hood Tragedy

I just read the news about the shooting incident at Fort Hood, TX.

My thoughts and prayers are with these victims, their families, and their units.

Meet Mr. Meas, 21 NOV

[Full Disclosure: I am volunteering for the Sam Meas for Congress Campaign. For the next year, I'll be posting regular updates about campaign events as well as insights regarding the experience itself].

On Saturday, 21 NOV, Sam Meas, a Haverhill-based Republican running for a seat in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts, will be walking through Downtown Lowell and the Lower Highlands in order to meet with business owners and residents.

The walking tour will begin at 8:00 a.m. at the Market Street Market (95 Market St.) Sam will spend the entire morning downtown, and will head to Le Petit Cafe (660 Middlesex) at 2:00 p.m. to begin making his way up Branch Street.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 City Election: The Sun in Their Eyes

I got pulled away by work this morning, but when I checked the Sun and made my tour of the half-dozen or so city blogs that I check regularly, there it was -- one of the most telling quotes of this electoral season, right from Mr. Armand Mercier:

"I really can't understand why I lost," he said. "I think voters subliminally lumped me in with (Councilor) Alan Kazanjian because we are friends. It doesn't make much sense."

Insulting the electorate is not exactly the most gracious way to go out. By comparison, Regina Faticanti's quote in this morning's paper came off as far more graceful. [Yes, I just said "Regina Faticanti" and "graceful" in the same sentence].

If Mr. Mercier cares to listen, I'd mention to him that there was palpable frustration with the status quo in a lot of corners of the city. Not just with the condo owners downtown, but from the teachers in the middle schools, the regulars at the VFW, the business owners worried about the city's reputation, etc. I'd also mention that while he was comfortably ahead of #11 in the returns, he was only a stone's-throw away from incumbent Rodney Elliott. Either could have lost last night, because both were lumped in with the Gang of Six, but very much unlike the Mayor and Rita, neither had the sun in his eyes.

So back to the title of the entry. Chris Matthews, a much better author than TV host, has often referred to this very short-hand heuristic that can be used in handicapping political races -- Which candidate has the sun in his or her eyes? Of course, it's not a literal question, nor an overwrought pun on my part regarding our newspaper of record, but it's a question about who's really working the streetcorners, the diners, and who's being chased by someone's dog in Pawtucketville as he attempts to knock on his 200th door that day.

I'd say nearly all of the victorious incumbents, and CERTAINLY all of the victorious challengers, had the sun in their eyes. I think there were a few challengers who phoned it in, and that it showed in the final tally. Here's a look at the nine who won, separated out by total votes received:

Look at Tier One: Rita, Bud, Franky. Rita is so well-known for constituent services that, well, everyone seems to know it. As far as ubiquity across the city, she's second only to Mayor Caulfield, who really isn't kidding when he talks about the 400 public appearances he's made in the past two years. I mean, the guy's been to more funerals than John McDonough. Franky's name and face were well-known to anyone who's ever done just about anything on Merrimack Street. She came to tons of neighborhood events, her campaign was very professional and easy-to-reach, and she had the organizational reach and charisma to somehow get a dedicated band of sign-wavers at VFW & Bridge on even the coldest and rainiest days. All three had the sun in their eyes -- bigtime -- and it showed in the final vote tally.

Tier Two: Broderick, Milinazzo, Martin, Mendonca. I was one of the many voters this year that voted for Broderick, Milinazzo, and Martin along with six challengers. Of course, this stemmed from two major issues -- the primary and the Andy Sheehan firing. Still, I had multiple opportunities to meet Broderick, Milinazzo, and Mendonca at some of the neighborhood meetings and campaign events -- all came across as genuine, and none struck me as arrogant or aloof. In Mendonca's case, I think he was a "best of both worlds" sort of candidate -- technically a challenger, but with enough past work on the SC and the CC to know you weren't getting a novice -- a great way to use one of your nine votes.

Tier Three: Murphy and Elliott. In Murphy's case, there's just no question at all that he had the sun in his eyes. He was out in the neighborhoods, gripping, grinning, and listening -- constantly. He remembered names. He had an energetic campaign staff, and widespread sign placement throughout the city. He used new media (YouTube) as well as the most old-fashioned campaign style, personal retail politics. I would also add that his 2007 Congressional challenge was a huge upside for him this time around in terms of the name recognition and the way it gave him a context in people's minds. As I like to say, losing a Congressional bid as a young novice, but then consolidating the lessons learned and channeling it into a future successful bid puts him in the good company of each of our last three Presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Elliott, on the other hand, hung on, but barely. I think if he comes back for another term in 2011 (I'll be voting absentee then, so I hope the blogs report on it), you'll see much more from Elliott in terms of the retail work that could help propel him up from ninth to a higher finish in the standings.

As far as the challengers who didn't make the cut, it's no surprise to see Paul Belley, Ben Opara, and Ryan Berard all clustered close together towards the top. They did a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff -- the block parties, the neighborhood meetings, and, yes, the door-to-door grunt work.

I don't want to comment on Armand Mercier's health issues, which I don't understand and won't pretend to. Of course, that could've been a limiting factor for him in his ability to campaign this season. But I do know that things like entrepreneurism and politics are inherently "risky businesses" in the sense that the odds are stacked WAY against you when you decide to participate. When you fail, you can either: a) look inward, ask what went wrong, and hope to fix it; or b) go vindictive and blame everyone else BUT yourself.

In the long term, that's what separates successes from failures.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Mr. Chafee Just Said...And Why It Matters

In a piece in the Globe today, Susan Milligan reports on potential Congressional races in which the GOP is hoping to reclaim some lost ground here in New England.

The article focuses mainly on GOP moderates and also addresses the problem some may have winning primaries -- a rabid Republican *base* may not let it happen. This, in turn, will create problems for the party in even-numbered Novembers, because the "vast middle" of New England voters frankly does not identify with Republican party extremists, particularly on so-called *wedge* social issues.

What stood out for me most was a quote at the very end from Lincoln Chafee, a moderate who is running in the 2010 gubernatorial contest in Rhode Island as an Independent. He essentially advised other candidates to do the same, which probably makes a ton of sense for anyone who is esssentially conservative on things like foreign policy and taxation, doesn't want to get *wedged out* in a primary on issues like abortion or gay rights, but still wants to see his or her name on a ballot in November.

When I got back home, I saw a post on Right-Side-of-Lowell, inspired by an article forwarded by the author of Choosing a Soundtrack, which talked about the increasing legitimacy of Indepedent candidacies in major races in New York and New Jersey. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Frustration with so-called "politics as usual" is NOTHING new. We could open any newspaper or any circulation level at virtually ANY point in American history and see that type of rhetoric. So I'm loathe to buy the idea that frustration with the status quo is at some type of boiling point that's in any way historically unique. What I DO believe, however, is that the Internet is changing the system that used to place tremendous heft in the hands of party/machine power brokers. Candidates are finding new ways to spread the word about themselves in rapid-fire, cost-effective ways. TV and print media ads are slowly losing relevance.

This will continue to happen. Whether you see actual third parties form here from the center (New Whigs? Bull Moosers?) remains to be seen. What you will see, however, are mainstream moderates who, whether because they can't fit neatly into any party label (i.e. Lincoln Chafee), or, out of the naked opportunism that comes with someone who sees the futility of his prospects in an intra-party matchup (i.e. Tim Cahill) strike out on their own as Independents.

Good for them, I say.

Real democracy should be about real choice between different candidates, not about a small number of people in a smoke-filled room (I don't care if it's Tammany or Bohemian Grove) trying to dictate what the huddled masses will or won't be able to do.

Latest Installment from the Murphy Campaign for YouTube

On Election Eve, here's the latest video to come from the campaign of Patrick Murphy, one of six challengers I'll be voting for tomorrow.