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With so many millennials out of work, why is Massachusetts targeting middle-age unemployed for aid?

May 29, 2012 03:01 PM

State lawmakers are moving ahead with $10 million for job training for those 50 and older. But what about jobs for us millennials, the young adults who have just finished college and grad school and are even more likely to be jobless than older workers?

The younger you are, the tougher it is to find work. The unemployment rate is 13 percent for those 20 to 24 and 8.2 percent for 25-34 year olds. For those between 50 and retirement age, it's about 6 percent — still too high, but below the 8.1 percent jobless rate for all workers. The problem isn't just that too many of us are out of work; studies show that the unemployed young will earn less over decades when they find work than peers who started work earlier and are more likely to go through a second period of unemployment. Those aren't auspicious signs for anyone who needs to pay off thousands in student loan debt, let alone build a career or start a family.

The reality is that workers of all ages are struggling to find jobs, and the solution isn't a hodgepodge of programs targeted to whoever is the favored demographic du jour. We need a more sustainable, faster-growing economy. Job training and any other program matching employers with potential hires is a good thing, but that's working at the margins when less than half of the jobs around at the start of the Great Recession have returned. Policymakers should be focusing on long-term investments in growing sectors where jobs will be needed in coming decades — health care, energy, education. Once those are in place, both millennials like me and everyone else will have a better shot at finding work and making a living.

Congress taking overdue steps to remove restrictions on women in combat

May 25, 2012 02:40 PM

I have been writing a series of columns on war and women. My hope was to question the continuing combat exclusion rules (though there have been important changes recently), highlight the contributions women are making in war, and recognize what they could contribute in the future. In last week’s column, I raised the prospect, based on President Obama’s speech at Barnard, that there might be congressional movement to push the issue to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion — that all exclusion rules will be replaced with objective physical requirement standards.

That appears to be happening, and there will likely be political consequences. In other words, the war on women may have just become war and women. In the Senate, Gillibrand from New York has now proposed legislation in the Defense Authorization Bill to require planning by the armed services to end all the exclusion rules that still apply. The House may be gearing up to do the same.

It will be interesting to see whether anyone actually protests this move, and whether Republicans will want to go on record, as Santorum did and later recanted, against integration. Over 140 women have died in the wars, and it is difficult to see how the rules are anything but antiquated paternalism. The military is fully capable of absorbing qualified women into its ranks and the new legislation may be the first salvo to force them to do so.

A year after devastating tornado, Joplin's recovery defies the numbers

May 23, 2012 02:58 PM

JOPLIN, Mo. — In a nation that has had its fair share of disasters, the way towns bounce back says something — whether it's New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, New York City after Sept. 11, or the tiny town of Joplin after the tornado that killed 161 and devastated the area one year ago Tuesday.

The numbers are telling.

The tornado's winds exceeded 200 miles per hour. In addition to the deaths, more than 1,000 people were injured, 7,500 homes destroyed, and 530 businesses damaged. Nearly 600 lost pets.

To put those numbers in perspective, Joplin has only 50,000 residents. The tornado, one-half to three-quarters of a mile wide, travelled approximately 13 miles on the ground throughout the main road of the city that had just celebrated its high school graduation.

Those are the numbers Joplin was up against in its recovery — which makes its success so far all the more remarkable.

There are many theories why Joplin has rebounded the way it has: a passionate city manager; a school committee focused solely on getting children back into classrooms; citizens who gave up their day jobs to manage and administer the rebuilding; the Federal Emergency Management Agency that stood by to help and assist, but never got in the way. And money: from the federal government, the state government, private companies, even Middle Eastern nations that saw what unfolded on CNN and sent computers to every school kid here.

The numbers tell one story. But Joplin’s rebound tells a bigger story than just numbers can ever disclose.

Twitter: @juliettekayyem

Is money losing its luster?

May 16, 2012 02:20 PM

NewNormalAmericanDreamInfographic_email.jpgThese last few weeks have been fairly rotten, PR-wise, for certain segments of the 1 percent, between the well-paid JPMorgan Chase traders who lost a cool $2 billion to the Liberty Mutual executives whose excesses have been documented so amusingly by the Globe’s Brian McGrory. The quest for more money, and then still more, has always been a part of the American psyche. But what if most people don’t care as much about all of that anymore?

That’s the suggestion from a new national poll commissioned by Boston public relations firm Solomon McCown, which is hosting a panel discussion today on the post-recession reality it’s calling “The New Normal.” The survey of 1009 adults, conducted by Anderson Robbins Research, found that most Americans rank “success in a high-paying career” near the bottom of their most-desired aspects of the American dream.

Those polled were asked to rate the importance of eight different aspects of the dream, from “a happy marriage” to “home ownership” to “living in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way.” Marriage ranked first, with 83 percent naming it very or extremely important. A long, healthy retirement ranked second, with 77 percent. Environmentally-sustainable living, interestingly, ranked third. A high-paying career ranked last, with only 46 percent.

Another interesting tidbit, on the money front: Respondents were asked to choose which would be “a better start in life for most young people today:” a high-quality education, or $250,000 in cash. College won, with 71 percent.

You can find more poll results here or check out this nifty infographic.

When Barney Frank gets married, who will perform the ceremony?

May 15, 2012 02:40 PM

When I interviewed Barney Frank last week about the dramatic evolution of gay rights, he was in the process of finalizing the guest list for his July wedding. He was also planning the ceremony: most notably, who would officiate.

Frank wouldn't tell me who he had chosen, but he did tell me his first choice: Margaret Marshall, the retired chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, who wrote the Goodridge decision that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts.

"In fact," he said, "I left a voice mail: 'Margie, will you marry me?'"

Frank said Marshall called him back laughing, and said that she would love to do it, but that she and her husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, were going to be out of the country that day.

Any speculation on who the officiant will be? Remember, in Massachusetts, anyone can get a license to perform a wedding ceremony. And we already know that it won't be President Obama.

How should Massachusetts bring down health care costs?

May 14, 2012 03:58 PM

No issue touches on more constituencies, or is more important to the welfare of the Commonwealth, than health care. The Massachusetts House and Senate have each proposed sweeping bills aimed at reducing health-care costs, while preserving the national leadership of the state’s world-class health care institutions. Negotiators from both chambers will be working on a compromise bill, with a deadline of July 31.

They’ll also be listening to the many stakeholders, from hospitals to doctors to insurers to patients to local businesses, who cite the rising cost of health care as a significant impediment to new hiring. As a Globe editorial pointed out, there are some areas of broad agreement between the two bills, but also some significant differences, particularly in the level of regulation. In the Globe’s op-edpages, former Governor Michael Dukakis has argued for a stronger regulatory hand, while former Medicare chief Donald Berwick has called on negotiators to zero in on unnecessary procedures, economist Edward L. Glaeser warned that rising health care costs are threatening our children's future, and columnist Jeff Jacoby said further regulations would backfire.

Meanwhile, much of the nation is watching Massachusetts: Its health care system will be under scrutiny throughout the presidential campaign.

Through July 31, the Globe invites its readers to offer their views in columns and posts ranging from 200 to 600 words. We will highlight the best on them in a special page on BostonGlobe.com, which will also include information about the issues at hand. Many of the pieces will be published in summary form in the op-ed pages of the Globe. Submissions can be sent to healthcare@globe.com. This is a chance for all of Massachusetts to be heard on an issue that touches every citizen. Let the discussion begin.

My dream for the Time cover

May 11, 2012 04:07 PM
Here is what I want for Mother’s Day: Silence. Not from my kids, who are physiologically incapable of silence, but from other mothers — the ones who publish self-aggrandizing quasi-confessional books, who attack each other in comments at the bottom of blog posts, and who appear on the covers of magazines, with perfectly coiffed hair and perfectly-applied lip gloss and perhaps a preschool-aged son attached to their breasts, gazing at the camera with a look that says, “You got a problem with this?”

Yes, I have a problem: I do not want to hear about your parenting style. I don’t care where your children sleep, what they call their private parts, when they learned to play the violin, what they eat and for how long, whether you discovered your discipline ideas in China, France, kindergarten, or the belly of a spaceship.

Don’t get me wrong — this kind of stuff can make for entertaining reading, and it’s great fodder for satire. (It’s also a challenge: When I was writing “Milkshake,” my novel about the breastfeeding wars, my biggest problem was inventing outrageous things for characters to do that hadn’t already happened real life.) People love to get worked up, which is why magazines and publishers try so hard to get them angry.

But I think we’ve hit our limit. We aren't helping each other or helping ourselves; we're simply making noise. So I’m hoping that the current cover of Time, carefully calibrated for to freak out the most people possible, represents some sort of high-water mark for parental exhibitionism.

Yes, that’s a pipe dream. And yes, of course, I still want you to post this on Twitter. But if you are one of the 3.9 million mothers who have read or commented on a mommy blog in the past month, and if you are now wondering when it will be your turn to cash in, here are some simple questions about that photo in Time:

  • Would they have put this woman on the cover if she didn’t look like a supermodel?
  • What will her son think when he’s in junior high and somebody digs up this picture and posts it on Facebook?
  • Is there such a thing as a natural act that is also an intimate act? Or are we too busy sharing to care about that?

Obama's shift on same-sex marriage puts focus on GOP centrists

May 10, 2012 03:14 PM

In five years, will President Obama’s switch to support same-sex marriage on Wednesday look like a turning point in mainstream acceptance?

Or will it have the opposite effect — snuffing out the tiny but growing pro-marriage rights wing within the GOP and entrenching same-sex marriage as a partisan issue favored only by Democrats?

Although most Republicans remain opposed to same-sex marriage, a handful voted in favor of same-sex marriage rights in New York last year, and the GOP-led legislature in New Hampshire upheld the state’s same-sex marriage law earlier this year. The plain fact is that if same-sex marriage rights are to continue expanding, they’ll need to keep attracting Republican supporters.

But what happens to that contingent now? After all, there seems to be nothing that scares GOP office holders into changing their views as swiftly as Obama agreeing with them. Whether it’s health insurance mandates or cap-and-trade, reflexive partisan opposition to the president often seems to overrule those positions.

But that’s hardly Obama’s fault. It’s up to Republicans — hopefully including Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown — to keep the party from doubling-down on same-sex marriage opposition merely because Obama’s now for it.

To its credit, the GOP leadership’s response to Obama’s announcement has been muted. Presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage, but acknowledged how "tender and sensitive" the topic was. Congressional Republican leaders have been busy trying to change the subject back to the economy.

At the same time, though, other voices within the GOP are clearly pushing to make same-sex marriage a defining issue in November. Wednesday night, within hours of the announcement, House Republicans staged a symbolic vote reaffirming the Defense of Marriage Act.

Many Republicans are sincerely opposed to same-sex marriage, and won’t be shifting their views. The danger is that, provoked by Obama’s stand, they will make it a partisan litmus test.

Backers of same-sex marriage hope that the movement will follow the path of interracial marriage to widespread, bipartisan acceptance. But the issue could just as easily turn into abortion instead — a culture-wars battleground that hasn’t faded almost 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

To prevent that, centrist Republicans need to speak up now. Brown was an opponent of the same-sex marriage law in Massachusetts, but has since declared that he considers it settled law without actually endorsing it. But if there were ever an ideal time for Brown to declare himself for same-sex marriage, this is it.

Lugar's parting shot

May 9, 2012 02:02 PM

After losing a GOP primary against a Tea Party-backed candidate on Tuesday, veteran senator Richard Lugar released this statement decrying intense partisanship in Washington:

I would like to comment on the Senate race just concluded and the direction of American politics and the Republican Party. I would reiterate from my earlier statement that I have no regrets about choosing to run for office. My health is excellent, I believe that I have been a very effective Senator for Hoosiers and for the country, and I know that the next six years would have been a time of great achievement. Further, I believed that vital national priorities, including job creation, deficit reduction, energy security, agriculture reform, and the Nunn-Lugar program, would benefit from my continued service as a Senator. These goals were worth the risk of an electoral defeat and the costs of a hard campaign.

Analysts will speculate about whether our campaign strategies were wise. Much of this will be based on conjecture by pundits who don't fully appreciate the choices we had to make based on resource limits, polling data, and other factors. They also will speculate whether we were guilty of overconfidence.

The truth is that the headwinds in this race were abundantly apparent long before Richard Mourdock announced his candidacy. One does not highlight such headwinds publically when one is waging a campaign. But I knew that I would face an extremely strong anti-incumbent mood following a recession. I knew that my work with then-Senator Barack Obama would be used against me, even if our relationship were overhyped. I also knew from the races in 2010 that I was a likely target of Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other Super Pacs dedicated to defeating at least one Republican as a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators.

We undertook this campaign soberly and we worked very hard in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to overcome these challenges. There never was a moment when my campaign took anything for granted. This is why we put so much effort into our get out the vote operations.

Ultimately, the re-election of an incumbent to Congress usually comes down to whether voters agree with the positions the incumbent has taken. I knew that I had cast recent votes that would be unpopular with some Republicans and that would be targeted by outside groups.

These included my votes for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START Treaty, and for the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. I also advanced several propositions that were considered heretical by some, including the thought that Congressional earmarks saved no money and turned spending power over to unelected bureaucrats and that the country should explore options for immigration reform.

It was apparent that these positions would be attacked in a Republican primary. But I believe that they were the right votes for the country, and I stand by them without regrets, as I have throughout the campaign.

From time to time during the last two years I heard from well-meaning individuals who suggested that I ought to consider running as an independent. My response was always the same: I am a Republican now and always have been. I have no desire to run as anything else. All my life, I have believed in the Republican principles of small government, low taxes, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and trade expansion. According to Congressional Quarterly vote studies, I supported President Reagan more often than any other Senator. I want to see a Republican elected President, and I want to see a Republican majority in the Congress. I hope my opponent wins in November to help give my friend Mitch McConnell a majority.

If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve. The most consequential of these is stabilizing and reversing the Federal debt in an era when millions of baby boomers are retiring. There is little likelihood that either party will be able to impose their favored budget solutions on the other without some degree of compromise.

Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don't succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues.

Legislators should have an ideological grounding and strong beliefs identifiable to their constituents. I believe I have offered that throughout my career. But ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents. Like Edmund Burke, I believe leaders owe the people they represent their best judgment.

Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times. Certainly this was understood by President Reagan, who worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today – from assenting to tax increases in the 1983 Social Security fix, to compromising on landmark tax reform legislation in 1986, to advancing arms control agreements in his second term.

I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements. Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader.

I hope that as a nation we aspire to more than that. I hope we will demand judgment from our leaders. I continue to believe that Hoosiers value constructive leadership. I would not have run for office if I did not believe that.

As someone who has seen much in the politics of our country and our state, I am able to take the long view. I have not lost my enthusiasm for the role played by the United States Senate. Nor has my belief in conservative principles been diminished. I expect great things from my party and my country. I hope all who participated in this election share in this optimism.

Tufts men's crew t-shirts were juvenile, and hint at sexualized sports team culture

May 4, 2012 10:36 AM

The men’s crew of Tufts University was almost up the creek without a paddle this weekend after a suspension threatened to keep them out of the New England Championships. The punishment was imposed by the team’s own coaches after the rowers showed up at a spring fling event in t-shirts bearing the unauthorized slogan “Check out our cox.” An anonymous observer, spotting sexism, filed a “bias incident” report.

Judging from student message boards, the disciplinary action was widely regarded as unfair. A post on Barstool Sports Boston blamed “batshit crazy feminists and delusional school administrators.” On Thursday, after crew members apologized, the suspension was lifted by the university president.

Perhaps suspension was overly harsh. Then again, the T-shirts were overly puerile. It can seem almost futile these days to protest the sexualization of pretty much everyone and everything — but let’s try anyway. If a team representing an institution of higher education (where I’m a grad student) is aiming for clever and funny, is it unreasonable to expect a version of clever and funny that doesn't target and sexualize the one woman in the boat (the cox), or hint approvingly at the aggressively sexualized culture within some fraternities and college sports teams? And could we perhaps resist characterizing protestors as sexless, humorless crones? Some feminists will have been offended. Other feminists won’t. Anyone had the right to raise the issue.

Here’s an alternative t-shirt slogan, used at Oxford: “Non circum coitus.” That’s Latin (sort of) for “We don't [expletive] around.” It’s smart and self-mocking. It contains the daring sexual reference that rowers apparently require, yet the message is clearly about athletic performance — not penis size, dorm hook-up plans, the sexual availability of the cox, or the fatuity of the wearer. As far as I know, this slogan isn’t copyright protected. Feel free to borrow it.

I scream, you scream — but does the new owner of 'The Scream'?

May 3, 2012 11:44 AM
The historic $107 million sale on Wednesday of a version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" has raised a lot of questions. Why would an unidentified private buyer spend that much money on one of four copies of a work of art that has become an icon about modern life?

Munch has described the scene not as an actual scream, but as a depiction of existential anxiety. As Sebastian Smee wrote in the Globe, "it depicts a person reacting with defensive horror to a scream — 'an endless scream passing through nature,' as the artist himself put it."

But if you have that much money to spend on a piece of art (the price doesn't include the extra $12.9 million sale charge), life has treated you pretty well. Maybe the kids are bratty, or the fourth house wasn't worth the investment, but overall things are looking pretty good.

So what gives with the existential angst? Really. I know everyone tells us that money doesn't buy happiness, and I honestly believe that — having encountered my fair share of miserable one percenters.

But the Munch pastel-on-board drawing is about the traumatic and miserable state of mankind, about the horrors that are part of our modern life — a remote state of affairs for someone whose loose change is apparently counted in the millions.

The buyer of the iconic work is unknown, though there is speculation that it's a Silicon Valley billionaire or Middle Eastern royal. Ironically, at least based on the price, it seems "The Scream" may have been wasted on someone particularly ill-suited to relate.

Reuters photo: A version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." A different version of the work sold at auction for $119.9 million on Wednesday.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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