Local Politics

Harvard University's 'Kindness Pledge'

By Toni Waterman   |   Wednesday, October 5, 2011
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Oct. 5, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 3 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There's a new and controversial philosophy at Harvard University this year. All incoming students have been asked to take what has been dubbed "The Kindness Pledge." It reads:

"As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to make the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment."

It sounds innocent enough, but the pledge is sparking debate. For one thing, says former Harvard College Dean Harry Lewis, the school has a 375-year-old tradition of rejecting pledges.

"If you go back and read about Harvard in the 17th century, it talks about how, unlike Oxford and Cambridge where the founders had been educated, Harvard didn't have any religious oaths and that's kind of persisted over the years," said Lewis.

He said Harvard isn't a particularly unkind place to begin with, so he was surprised when he heard about the pledge. Apparently, the pledge is the result of a few unhappy incidents between students and staff last year.

Still, Lewis finds ‘kindness' an odd value to pick, considering the schools history.

"We actually value nonconformity. And nonconformity, you know, can sometimes seem to be unkind if the person you are disagreeing with finds you disagreeable," he said, adding, "So I began to worry a little bit about the sort of thought control tendency."

Lewis said asking freshman on their very first day of school to sign a pledge to control their thoughts undermines the school's stated objective — and Roman model — Veritas, the goddess of truth. Lewis thinks there's perhaps been some confusion between civility and kindness.

"They're not the same thing. I actually do think that it's reasonable to ask people to be civil," Lewis said. "But kindness means going beyond the call of duty, you know, to do something extra."

As for the students on campus, reaction has been mixed, one senior said that all the students are prescreened before they arrive, so the school already knows what its getting. "In my class, I feel most of the kids are very kind. So I don't think it's necessary," he said as he hurried off to class.

A sophomore added, "They shouldn't have to sign a pledge to do that. They should already want to be like that, or be like that in general."

But some Harvard students think the pledge is a good thing.

"I think it's a good thing to reinforce moral values in people and remind them that Harvard is a place that expects you to act and to be a person of character," said one senior. Another one added, "If it starts a discussion, I think sometimes, you know, it's a good place to start making change."

Lewis doesn't say that change is a bad thing, but says "The Kindness Pledge," like most moral postures, is a bit hypocritical.

"It seemed odd to expect freshmen to pledge to do something which not everyone among that professorial and deans and presidents always show. We did after all have a notable former Harvard President who referred to some students during the summer using a seven-letter word, which began with "A" said Lewis.

Lewis is, of course, referring to the July incident in which President Larry Summers called the infamous Winklevoss twins a disparaging word.

"And was there any statements from the deans and the presidents and the faculty about how the former president, the university professor, should be kinder to students? No," said Lewis. "They expect the most powerless, sort of the bottom people on the totem pole to pledge to something that is neither exhibited nor pledged to by the people who have greater power in the University."

Goodbye To The Old Groton Inn

By Azita Ghahramani   |   Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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Sept. 28, 2011

Watch the video segment that aired on September 27 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

GROTON, Mass. — Home to the Groton School and Lawrence Academy, the town of Groton also boasted an Inn where Presidents and historic figures stayed on their way to Boston. But that Inn may soon be demolished.

Late on the evening of Aug. 2, 2011, a neighbor alerted George Pergantis that his inn was on fire. Pergantis described watching the firefighters at work. "The fire department came in with a big truck and as soon as he hit the window all the flames came out, poof, 50 feet in the air," Pergantis said.

Fifteen trucks, and the efforts of countless firefighters couldn't save the building.

"It's all over for me," Pergantis tearfully recalled. "I don't want to talk much because I feel bad…"

Pegantis feels bad because after 30 years of love and labor keeping The Old Groton Inn running, he says at age 81 he's too old to rebuild now. So despite objections from area residents, he plans to tear down what's left of the building.

"The town people, I'll be honest with you. All these years, they never supported me. Very few people here and there. Now, they come here, they want to support me. It's too late," Pergantis said.

Laurie Gibson hopes it's not too late. She grew up here and her parents once owned the inn. It was their meticulous research and efforts that put the Groton Inn on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The oldest part of the Inn dates back to 1678. Which is 98 years before we even became a country," explained Gibson. "Paul Revere inducted the Masons here. Ulysses Grant was also in the registers. Teddy Roosevelt and William H. Taft. One of them had stayed here the night before he was elected," Gibson said.

Established originally in 1678 as a homestead for the local parish, The Groton Inn eventually became a popular resting spot for travelers. Gibson and some town residents aren't ready to put 300 years of history to rest and are pinning their hopes on an engineers' report that claims parts of the Inn can be salvaged.

"From what we understand, at least 30 percent of the building is viable," Gibson said. "It wasn't touched by the fire. It's amazing to me — the oldest part of the building survived the most."

But Pergantis sees no point. "Keep the front for what? Nothing is left. The foundation is no good. What are you going to keep?" Pergantis said.

Pergantis already has permits to tear the building down, he's just waiting for his insurance claim to pay for the demolition. Gibson expressed the hope of supporters who are using this borrowed time to make a plea to save the inn.

"We are hoping somebody would come forward and hopefully want to purchase the property. And want to purchase what's left of the building. And restore it as much as possible," Gibson said

But even a benevolent stranger might not be able to restore the inn if Pergantis refuses to sell it. The Old Groton Inn – a resting place for 3 centuries of travelers, may have come to its final rest.

Boston Court Ruling Affirms Citizens' Right To Record Officials

By Toni Waterman   |   Friday, September 23, 2011
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Sept. 23, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on September 22 on WGBH's Greater Boston

BOSTON — Simon Glik, a lawyer, was walking through Boston Common on the night of October 1, 2007, when he stumbled upon what he described as an unbelievable situation: Three Boston police officers forcefully wrangling, punching and trying to hold down a young man.

"I saw him just being in a choke hold, being punched and looking like he was in tremendous agony. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew if I were to tell that to someone, no one would believe me," Glik said.

So Glik whipped out his cell phone and started recording what to him appeared to be police using excessive force. And that's where his troubles began.

"They arrested him and they looked at me and said, 'Well, you've had enough.' By that time I think I had stopped taking any video," said Glik.

But it was his next sentence that got him arrested.

"I said, 'I saw you guys punch him.' Once they heard that, they got immediately very angry and sort of got in a huddle for a couple of seconds and then they informed me that I was under arrest. I said, 'What for?' And they said, "Wiretapping," Glik said.

The cops claimed Glik violated the state's wiretapping law, which prohibits secret audio recordings. But the ACLU's Carol Rose says, there was nothing secret about what Glik was doing.

"In Massachusetts if you want to audio record a conversation with another person you can't do it in secret, you have to do it publicly and openly. But clearly in this case Simon Glik did it publicly and openly. He held up his camera. He said I'm recording," Rose said.

A frame from Simon Glik's cell phone recording of the Boston police in 2007. (via Greater Boston)

Along with illegal wiretapping, Glik was charged with disturbing the peace and aiding the escape of a prisoner. But the charges didn't hold up in court. In January 2008, Judge Mark Summerville threw out the charges, saying photography is a form of free expression and is protected by the First Amendment.

But last year, Glik filed a civil rights lawsuit against the three police officers and the City of Boston, insisting his right to free speech had been violated and that he was arrested without probable cause.

The police argued immunity, claiming they were working in their official capacity and that they had been poorly trained on the law. But the court didn't buy it. Last month, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled:

"A citizen's right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment."

Glik said the ruling is a step in the right direction.

"One of the major goals has been accomplished by this monumental decision of the First Circuit. And it's not that I just have a right, it's everybody now who has a right and that right has been prescribed on such a level that it's impossible for the police to misinterpret," Glik said.

The First Circuit's ruling means Glik's suit against the officers can now move forward and they could be on the hook for Glik's legal costs, among other damages.

The ruling could also have some profound effects nationwide for other cases like Glik's.

Mass. May Legalize Ticket Scalping

By Adam Reilly   |   Wednesday, September 21, 2011
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Sept. 21, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Sept. 20 on 'GBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — In theory at least, ticket scalping is illegal here in Massachusetts. But in reality it's widely accepted. From the guys who peddle Sox tickets outside Fenway, to outfits like Stub Hub and Ace Ticket that routinely sell thousands of seats at a hefty markup. Now a proposed law would give scalpers free rein; letting anyone who buys a ticket resell it at any price. Proponents say it's a simple issue of economic freedom, but the truth may be a bit more complicated.

StubHub tickets (via Greater Boston)

Take a stroll down Brookline Avenue before any Red Sox game and you'll see how easy it is to flout state law. You're supposed to have a license to resell tickets — and you're not supposed to jack the price up more than $2 plus expenses. Yet Fenway's unlicensed scalpers operate right on the street. And if you buy from a licensed reseller like Stub Hub or Ace Ticket, you'll pay a heck of a lot more than two bucks extra. For some folks I talked to, the experience is a mixed bag. One woman paid $90 for a ticket with a $30 face value.

Now Brighton State Representative Mike Moran wants to scrap the state's feeble anti-scalping law altogether — letting anyone who buys a ticket resell it at any price. That could benefit ordinary fans looking to unload tickets at the last minute, but only if they can overcome the public's intense aversion to buying on the street.

However, the biggest beneficiaries would probably be Stub Hub and Ace Ticket. Moran's bill would let them raise prices even higher, and in sports crazed New England they'd have no shortage of buyers. I asked another woman if she would mind the markup up at a Stub Hub or Ace ticket, and she replied, "Not really, provided that you get a good seat and guaranteed ticket."

This isn't the first attempt to scrap the state's anti-scalping law. In 2008 a similar bill died as controversy engulfed then House Speaker Sal DiMasi. But now DiMasi is gone – and scalping's legalized heyday may finally be at hand.

John O'Brien, Former Probation Commissioner Indicted

By Adam Reilly   |   Monday, September 19, 2011
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Sept. 19, 2011

Watch the segment that aired Sept. 19 on WGBH's Greater Boston. (Click for larger view)

BOSTON — In May 2010, some tough investigative reporting by The Boston Globe revealed that the Massachusetts Probation Department was a patronage haven — packed with unqualified employees who had received their jobs thanks to support from powerful politicians. Now that scandal is heading to the courts.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Attorney General Martha Coakley accused former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and Scott Campbell, an aide to former state treasurer Tim Cahill, of trading campaign contributions for a job for O'Brien's wife, Laurie.

"In June of 2005," Coakley said, "John 'Jack' O'Brien hosted a fundraiser in which he raised approximately $11,000 in funds that went to the campaign funds of then-Treasurer Cahill, and that Laurie O'Brien began a job in September as a customer service representative at the Lottery."

The indictments released today by Coakley also accuse ex-Cahill aide, Scott Campbell, of laundering $1500 in campaign contributions when Cahill ran for governor last year.

"On at least three separate occasions," Coakley said, "Campbell approached friends and relatives, gave them $500 in cash, and requested that they write checks in their own names to the Cahill for Governor campaign."

Cahill's attorney fired back in a statement to WGBH, saying: "There is no credible evidence to support the allegations that a job for Laurie O'Brien was the result of, or was influenced by, a fundraiser attended by members of the probation department."

Clearly Coakley disagrees, however. And this afternoon she said there may be more indictments to come.

"This is only the beginning of this investigation," Coakley said. "Not the end of it."

Whether Monday's developments will put Beacon Hill back on the defensive over Probation remains to be seen. When the Probation Dept. scandal first hit, Governor Deval Patrick tried to merge Probation and Parole and put them under gubernatorial control. The legislature emphatically rejected that proposal. But with Probation back in the news, Patrick has another chance to make his case for reform — if he wants to.

Warren Takes Steps Toward Possible Senate Bid

By The Associated Press   |   Thursday, August 11, 2011
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Aug. 11, 2011

Elizabeth Warren testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 16, 2011 before a House subcommittee on Financial Services. (AP)

WASHINGTON — Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is taking the first steps toward launching a possible challenge against Republican Scott Brown, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts and a top Democratic target in 2012.

The 62-year-old Harvard law professor began contacting top Massachusetts Democrats on Thursday, including party Chairman John Walsh, about a potential candidacy.

Warren plans to make a decision after Labor Day and will spend the next few weeks talking with voters and party activists, a Democrat close to the national leadership told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to speak publicly, and requested anonymity.

"I left Washington, but I don't plan to stop fighting for middle class families," Warren wrote in a posting Thursday on Blue Mass Group, a popular blog among Massachusetts Democrats. "I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it — and I have no intention of stopping now."

A favorite of consumer groups and liberals, Warren was tapped by President Barack Obama last year to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congressional Republicans opposed her becoming the bureau's director, and Obama in July decided not to pick her to head the new agency, sparking speculation that she might challenge Brown.

Top national Democrats desperate to find a strong challenger to take back the Massachusetts seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy have been urging Warren to run for months. A poll in March showed Brown as the most popular politician in the state.

Warren, who lives in Cambridge, has never held elective office. She left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this summer, and recently returned from a vacation with her family to consider running.

Warren did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

In a move that appeared to underscore her seriousness about the race, two prominent Massachusetts political strategists - Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan — are assisting her as she decides. Rubin is the former top political strategist for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Democrats say her image as a crusader on behalf of consumers against well-heeled Wall Street and corporate interests would be a boon to her candidacy. Party leaders also believe her national profile would help her raise the money needed to topple Brown, who has more than $10 million in his campaign account.

Faced with a crowded field, Democrats worry that a long, costly and divisive primary could dash their hopes of reclaiming the seat after their embarrassing loss to Brown in 2010.

There are several Democrats already running, including Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state's first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; and Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.

About the Authors
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.


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