State Flag Pierces Dignity of Original Americans; Baker Open to a Do-Over

Friday, June 26, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker gave a jolt of energy this afternoon to an idea that’s been languishing at the State House for years and that came to the fore this week because of the racially motivated slaughter of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.

That idea is to change the Massachusetts state flag because it is offensive to Native Americans.
For at least the last three legislative sessions, Assistant House Majority Leader Byron Rushing, D-Boston, has tried to move a bill that would set up a commission to look at redesigning the flag; so far, he’s made little headway.

There is not a large bloc of legislators actively defending the flag and vowing to preserve it as is.  It’s more a case of legislators being reluctant to initiate a change process on the ground, I presume, that, once you start tinkering with the official portrayal of historical events, where do you stop?
Yvonne Abraham heaved the idea into the spotlight yesterday in a Boston Globe column headlined “It’s no Confederate flag, but our banner is still pretty awful.”

Wrote Abraham, “Though the Massachusetts state flag is not as overtly abhorrent as the one that flies on South Carolina’s state capitol grounds, it is still pretty awful,” adding, “…It is hard to read it (the Massachusetts flag) as anything but a flag designed by and for the colonial conquerors who made the Bay State, the ones who won the land – with a short time out for Thanksgiving dinner – by all but eradicating the people who got here first.” 

The Massachusetts flag depicts a member of the Algonquin tribe on a shield beneath a disembodied right arm that wields a big sword.  Swirling round that shield is a ribbon on which is written, in Latin, words that mean, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace under liberty.” 
The images and words can too easily be perceived as evocative of King Philip’s War (1675-78) between the English colonists and the Wampanoag tribe that had befriended the English upon their arrival 55 years earlier at Plymouth.  In that war, the Wampanoag were allied with another tribe, the Narragansett.  The war ended, genocide-like, with but a small remnant of Wampanoag and Narragansett alive.

As for changing the flag, Governor Baker told the State House News Service, “I would say if there is an interest among the players, and there are many, to have a conversation on the flag, I would certainly be happy to participate in that.  It has been around for I think about 150 years and there is nothing wrong with taking another look.”
More than encouraging the governor to take another look, I’d ask him please to replace the flag with something that does not make one think we are reconciled to the notion of  annihilating the human beings who owned the splendid lands and waters that became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Our state's name was adopted from the name of the peoples who lived here first, the Massadchuset.  That name, in turn, was derived from the word they had for the Great Blue Hill in Milton and Canton, a place spiritually significant to the ancient peoples. 

Commonwealth comes from common weal, which meant the common well-being, or the common good.
If I had a say, this is what I'd say: 

Mr. Governor and distinguished members of the Great and General Court, it's time for a new and better Massachusetts state flag.  The new flag, I believe, should solely bear an image of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag, who helped to ensure the survival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.  One of Massasoit's sons, Metacom, later became Chief of the Wampanoag. He was called by the English "King Philip." Chief Metacom was slain near the end of the terrible war that bears his name.  I ask you please to decree that, on our new Massachusetts state flag, beneath an image of a robust, dignified and proud Chief Massasoit, these words shall be inscribed:

Remembering Him, and Regretting the Fate of His People, We Strive Harder for the Common Good  


Suffolk University's New Prez More than Ready for Prime Time on Beacon Hill

Friday, June 19, 2015

Boston’s Suffolk University has a new president, Margaret McKenna, who served as president of Lesley University, in nearby Cambridge, for 22 years and was most recently the president of the Wal-Mart Foundation.   

McKenna is the first woman to lead Suffolk, which sits in the shadow of the State House and has traditionally enjoyed a close relationship with the powers that be on Beacon Hill.  It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor thing, but also an alumni-loyalty thing:  last time I counted (in December, 2012), 18% of the 200 members of the Massachusetts legislature were Suffolk grads.  In any given year, a significant number of legislative staffers will be pursuing law or graduate degrees in Suffolk’s evening division.  It’s just so easy for staffers to dash across the street at the end of the day to catch a class.  Lawmakers are famously lenient for letting staff go early, especially during exams. 
Among the many current legislators who’ve graduated from Suffolk are House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rep. Angelo Scaccia, the longest-serving member of the House.  Secretary of State Bill Galvin is also a Suffolk alumnus, as is former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, outgoing president of UMass Lowell and  incoming president of the entire UMass system.   

Meehan is rumored to have turned down the Suffolk presidency when it was offered to him.  If that was the case, McKenna was the second choice of the Suffolk board of trustees, a 30-member group filled with Boston super-achievers and power brokers.  Come on down, Dan Conley, Bill Hogan and Jen Nassour!  And you, too, Jim Morris, Damian Wilmot, Roger Berkowitz, Julie Kahn, Marshall Sloan, John Fernandez and Bob Sheridan!
To her credit, McKenna took head-on the question of whether the board loved Marty more, and turned it with fun to her advantage.  In an interview with the Boston Business Journal’s Mary Moore in early May, McKenna said, “Was I first, second, third or whatever?  Marty Meehan is an alumni and he’s definitely going to be one of my fundraising calls.”  (Meehan is savvy enough to write McKenna a big check, and to call Bill Brett in for a photo when he presents it to McKenna on the Boston Common, State House gleaming in the background.)

Speaking of the Suffolk trustees, they obviously felt they made the wrong choice last time they chose a new, permanent president of the university.  President James McCarthy was let go last August with a year remaining on his first contract.  McCarthy is a brilliant man, a Ph.D. from Princeton with an impressive list of professional accomplishments, but he never moved up to the exalted role of Boston big shot created and left for him by David Sargent, who ruled the Suffolk roost for 21 years.
Suffolk board chair Andrew Meyer told the Boston Globe that McCarthy’s departure was amicable, saying McCarthy had “accomplished what he felt he could.”  I think that translates as: McCarthy was tired of butting heads with us, and vice versa.

Back to McKenna: this lady is a force of nature!  She’s an attorney with a law degree from Southern Methodist University, and has served as a vice president of Radcliffe College, a civil rights lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice, a deputy counsel in the White House, and as an undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education.  She was hugely successful at Lesley, which had 2,000 students when she started in 1985 and 10,000 students upon her departure in 2007. 
Another big reason to feel optimistic about the Suffolk presidency of Margaret McKenna: she’s a graduate of the frequently underestimated Emmanuel College, in Boston's Fenway district.  She has that in common with Mary Beth Cahill, once Ted Kennedy’s chief of staff and John Kerry’s presidential campaign manager, and with Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

At 70, McKenna projects the energy and drive of a person 30 years younger.  To the Boston Business Journal, she hinted strongly that she’s going to be an aggressive fund raiser.  “You ask for money,” she said.  “You can’t get money unless you ask for it.  We’ve got a great, large alumni base.  We need to engage them and get them excited about what Suffolk is today and go after them.”
A lot of that engagement, the “going after them,” I predict, will take place on Beacon Hill.  Most every legislator has an enviable list of donors.





Pipeline Foes Prone to Exaggerate the Ease and Likelihood of Exporting LNG

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If fuel from the Marcellus Shale, perhaps the largest known source of natural gas in the world, is one day shipped through pipelines in Massachusetts and exported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe or elsewhere, should you care?

Opponents of new and expanded gas pipelines certainly want you to care. More precisely, they want you to be suspicious. 
Pipeline foes never seem to miss an opportunity to claim that the export of LNG is the ultimate objective of the companies proposing new gas pipelines. The web site of one opposition group, for example, claims there is “new potential for export (of gas) from facilities in Maine and Everett, MA.”

Pipeline foes imply that Massachusetts is a pawn in a bigger game, never mind that consumers here could save, collectively, hundreds of millions of dollars annually through lower bills for electricity if we had a larger, more dependable supply of gas, the fuel of choice now for generating electricity in Massachusetts.
By playing the export card, opponents obviously believe they improve their chances of blocking one or both of the pipelines now on the drawing board in Massachusetts.  If they have to exaggerate the possibility of America actually exporting natural gas one day, no problem.

Here’s what I think has been exaggerated, maybe wildly so:  
The potential to take gas from Pennsylvania, transport it by pipe to industrial complexes on the coasts of Massachusetts or Maine, convert it there to LNG by freezing it to 258 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero, ship it and sell it overseas for a profit, and do that for the substantial span of years needed to ensure the financial viability of the entire multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

Before saying more, I must disclose that I perform work for pay on behalf of the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs:   
I also serve as a director of the Coalition, which advocates for the construction of two new gas pipelines in Massachusetts.  If built, those pipelines could deliver up to an additional 2 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas per day to the region. 

Persons more knowledgeable (and objective) than I are convinced that 2 bcf more of gas would be enormously beneficial to the economy and to every working person in New England. 
Everyone should be concerned about the high cost of electricity in Massachusetts and how that cost inhibits economic growth, weakens the position of the Commonwealth in national and international marketplaces, undermines our standard of living, and casts a shadow over the futures of our children and grandchildren.  

Now, back to the exaggerations…
When pipeline opponents say there’s new potential for exporting shale-gas-converted-to-LNG from a facility in Everett, they’re apparently referring to the Distrigas terminal on the Mystic River, in the inner part of Boston Harbor, several hundred yards west of the Tobin Bridge. 

Physically, the terminal probably could be adapted to enable LNG exports.  But, local, state and federal authorities would never grant the permits needed to make those changes. 
At least since 9-11, there has been a quiet consensus among our political leaders and public safety professionals that Boston’s inner harbor is not a good place for an LNG terminal. 

LNG will never be exported from Boston Harbor.  Period.
The potential to locate a new LNG export facility measurably increases when you move up the coast to Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada.  Nevertheless, one still has to exaggerate the ease with which a facility could be built there if one wishes to speak confidently about how an LNG export terminal is bound to arise in Maine and/or eastern Canada once those pipelines are built in Massachusetts.

A new LNG export terminal in Maine or Canada could cost upwards of $4 billion to plan, permit and construct. There are serious doubts that any group of investors would finance a project that costly when there are many large (and competing) sources of natural gas in the world beyond North America.
You don’t have to take my word on this, or even listen to what I say.  Listen instead, please, to what the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs said in a 2014 report, which was published as part of its Geopolitics of Energy Project. [Citation for report: Maugeri, Leonardo. “Falling Short:  A Reality Check for Global LNG Exports” Discussion Paper 2014-11. Belfer Center for Science and International  Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. December 2014.]  It may be found in its entirety at:

Here’s a key excerpt from “Falling Short”:

“As for exporting gas to Europe, several doubts loom large about European capacity to absorb enough natural gas from the United States.  This stems not only from pricing considerations, but also from the sluggish demand for natural gas across Europe, which leaves less room for additional gas to the region, not to mention the attractiveness of higher prices in Asia for US LNG exporters.
“…it is highly probable that, faced with a significant amount of US LNG going to Europe, Russia, Algeria and other big European suppliers of natural gas might start a price war against American gas.

“Consequently, unless one can expect that the European gas price will increase substantially, investors in US LNG export schemes need to be careful about assuming that Europe will be a big market for US natural gas exports.”  [Bold face added]
“Falling Short” cautions that:

“…regardless how optimistic or pessimistic one may be about the continuation of the shale gas revolution, the possibility remains that US shale gas production will not be able to feed growing exports of natural gas, either for environmental reasons (for example, a ban on extending fracking to several areas of the United States), or for having reached the natural limits of shale exploitation at reasonable costs.”


New Senator Declined to Cash in on Ties to Obama, Service at White House

Friday, June 12, 2015

It was a little before 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20, when Eric Lesser, the pride of Longmeadow, the new senator from the 1st Hampden & Hampshire District, arose from his place in the Senate Chamber at the State House to deliver his maiden speech.  The upper branch was in the midst of its annual budget debate, the multi-day period during which it makes final changes to, and then approves, its version of the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Only 30 years old and already a veteran of politics as it is practiced on the highest stage in the world, Washington, D.C., Senator Lesser had taken the oath of office as a legislator 133 days before.  This was not an exceptionally long spell for a new senator or a new representative to wait before giving his first speech on the floor.  (Thanks to the State House News Service, we know what he said; we have an historical record.)
“I come from the Pioneer Valley, the crossroads of New England, a strategic location between Albany and Boston, where George Washington placed the armory during the Revolutionary War,” he proclaimed. “We have been a manufacturing center.  We have also been one of the great engines of innovation.”

That great engine may have lost some of its once amazing power and be limping in the pitiless competition with many other great or greater engines around the world, but it is still running, unnoticed by most of us, and it is deserving of the attention and the assistance of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which was the point of Senator Lesser’s speech on May 20.
He had filed an amendment to the Senate budget, #328, which sought to increase by half-a-million dollars, from $945,000 to $1,445,000, the amount to be spent in FY 16 (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016) on a pilot program to train unemployed and underemployed workers in Greater Springfield in the skills required to get a job in the high-technology-driven factories of today.

“The legacy of advanced manufacturing continues in our area: high tech, solar panels, components of wind turbines, advanced parts that leverage technology,” Senator Lesser said, noting that good-paying manufacturing jobs have always been the “ticket to the middle class” in this country.
“People (with such jobs) can buy homes, they can save for college, they can invest in their futures through these jobs,” he said. “That proud tradition extends ten generations in the Pioneer Valley.”

While manufacturing has declined in Western Massachusetts, as it has in every part of the U.S., Senator Lesser struck an optimistic note. (One would be chagrined if a promising young man or woman had not done so on the first occasion that the State House spotlight was shining exclusively on him or her.) 
“There is a vision for the future.  There is a path to reinvest in the industries and to reinvest in the middle class,” he said, “and that’s to marry our traditional history of a manufacturing center to the intellectual firepower of our schools.  There is a renaissance in making wind turbines, solar panels – all the things that fuel the modern economy.  It is projected that, over the next 10 years, there will be 44,000 vacancies in the manufacturing field – in a field that pays average salaries of $75,000 a year.”

Senator Lesser exhorted his colleagues to “imagine the wasted potential if we don’t take this on.”
He said, “Imagine the families that won’t be able to put a kid through college, buy a home, if we don’t take this on.  One of the most fundamental things we can take up is to address this skills gap, between the jobs that are being created and the people looking for work, not only in Hampden and Berkshire and Hampshire Counties, but in all of Massachusetts.”

The senator was on a roll now.  “Shared prosperity is our goal!” he declared.
“I would argue,” he added, “that so many of the challenges we face are connected to this fundamental challenge, which is a middle class that is increasingly squeezed.”

He asked, “In an economy where a 19-year-old can become a billionaire by creating an iPhone app, how do we create an economy for everybody else?”
He said, “We have to reinvest in our middle class.  Amendment 328 is a modest proposal.  It’s 1.5 million dollars.  It might not seem like a lot, but for the hundreds of people who will benefit from it, it’s the world to them.”

When he finished, all of the senators and all of the senate staffers in the Chamber, as is the custom for maiden speeches in the legislature, stood and applauded.  Many observing the budget debate from Senate galleries also gave him a standing ovation.
Then the clerk, at the direction of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, a fellow champion of the Pioneer Valley, called the roll.  Thirty-nine senators were present; each voted yes on Amendment 328.  For a few moments, Senator Lesser could feel like the rookie who hits a home run in his first at-bat in the major leagues.

I like this Eric Lesser -- his set of mind, his imperatives of heart, his immunity to greed. 
In May of 2007, three days after graduating from Harvard, he joined the presidential campaign of Barack Obama as a baggage handler and advance man. He was so good at his job, so well organized and relentlessly conscientious and task-focused, that Obama predicted he would run a Fortune 500 company one day.  Lesser was only 22 years old when Obama won the White House and he joined the president’s staff as a special assistant to David Axelrod, Obama’s political guru, at a desk only a few steps from the Oval Office.  He would later become an aide to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and would remain in service to Obama until the fall of 2011, when he departed for Harvard Law School.  HBO hired him as an advisor to the series “Veep” during that time. (Former movie star and U.S. Senator Fred Thompson memorably likened acting  to "finding money on the ground;" advising actors has to be the next closest thing to that.)

Early in 2014, Lesser was considering various options when he decided to run for the state senate seat occupied by Gale Candaras, who had decided not to stand for re-election and to run for Hampden County Register of Probate.  (Candaras lost the Probate race by fewer than 300 votes.)   

Lesser could have used his connections to Obama and Axelrod, one of the top political and media consultants in the world, to land a lucrative job in the private sector.  Instead, he set his sights on a job in the legislature with a base salary of $60,032 per year. 
At Longmeadow High School, Lesser had been elected president of his class four years in a row, but the fall of 2014 would be the first time his name appeared on a public ballot. Geographically, the 1st Hampden & Hampshire is very large; socially and economically, it is very diverse.  The district includes all of Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow and Wilbraham, and parts of Chicopee and Springfield.  It’s hard for a veteran politician to get elected in a district like that, never mind a first-timer.  Lesser faced a very real risk of rejection and failure -- death by voter.

I like that, after having the run of the White House, Lesser didn’t feel too big for a back bench at the State House.  It says something about the proportionality of his ego that he can enjoy being on the streets of Wilbraham as much as the streets of Washington.
I like that he’s a sincere student of the Masssachusetts legislature and that he sees the formidable value and potential in being a state senator.  For example, besides wanting to revive manufacturing in the Pioneer Valley, he’s hoping to establish high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield.  “For our economy to grow,” he says, “we need to better link ourselves to the red-hot economies in the eastern part of the state, and give families more opportunities to root themselves in Western Massachusetts.” 

If you get off the highways that crisscross Springfield and take a slow drive around the city, you’ll see a lot that will distress you.  Poverty has been entrenched in some areas for decades.  You’ll also see the city’s great natural assets, and you'll quickly grasp why they built Springfield where they did, at a commandingly beautiful point on the Connecticut River. 
You’ll see, as George Washington did when he chose it as the site of the arms factory needed to win the War of Independence, that it’s a natural inlands crossroads. You’ll see, as Senator Lesser and others do, why many more people would want to live on those gracious old streets above the Connecticut if they could get to their jobs in Boston by train in a little over an hour, a feat well within our engineering, if not our monetary, capabilities.
Legislatures are like all human organizations: they constantly need new blood. We’re witnessing again how the likes of a Lesser can make a legislature greater.