A Look at “Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century” by John Farrell.

Tip O'Neill and the Democratic CenturyTip O’Neill and the Democratic Century by John A. Farrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bumped into this book in my library, so I read it the old fashioned way, and I am very happy I did. Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil is a name that many recognize, especially in Massachusetts. For me Speaker O’Neil most certainly was a giant of Massachusetts politics, but I really was not versed in his career, and how he managed to achieve such political success. This book does, in my estimation, a great job of giving us a good look at that career, from start to finish. While the book is about Speaker O’Neil it is fully titled “Tip O’Neil and the Democratic Century,” and it provides us with a history touching some of the giants of the national Democratic Party, along with the interactions with some of the greats of the national GOP.

Speaker O’Neil represented a Congressional District in Cambridge that has a storied history, with John F. Kennedy beginning his political career by representing the district. James Michael Curley also represented that district. Farrell takes us through how a young Tip O’Neil ended up winning that seat, but before we get there we see Tip O’Neil winning a Massachusetts House race in Cambridge, and building a political organization that would serve him for the rest of his career. Just that part of the story makes the book worthwhile, as we get a pretty good look at Massachusetts politics, with State Representative O’Neil rising to become Speaker of the Massachusetts House. We get a pretty good look at some of the give and take with the Kennedy family, including the massive resources that Ambassador Joseph Kennedy was willing to bring to the table to support the political aspirations of his son Jack.

Tip O’Neil’s move to Washington as a Congressman was not easily achieved, as he had to twice defeat Michael Lopresti of East Boston, a very formidable opponent. (The Lopresti family remains politically prominent in Boston) We get to see some of the interactions with political giants like Sam Rayburn, John McCormack, and Lyndon Johnson. McCormack was a political patron, with Representative O’Neil benefitting from McCormack’s political acumen and influence. The story on the O’Neil influence on the Boston Herald loss of the Boston Channel 5 broadcast license (and how they got it) is a remarkable piece of Massachusetts history which reverberates to this very day. Watching the O’Neil climb in Washington, in addition to showing us some of the outsized personalities of the era, brings us some understanding of the importance of how the House works. (The Rules Committee) O’Neil’s fundamental ability to read people, to partially camouflage his ambition behind humor, his dedication to doing the hard work of networking with the members, understanding their needs and districts, allowed him to rise through the ranks. At a pivotal moment O’Neil was in the right place at the right time when Rep. Hale Boggs was lost in a tragic air accident.

O’Neil’s turn away from LBJ and the Vietnam war, and how that change mirrored the changes occurring in his Cambridge district, is covered. He took that stand in spite of the tension it created with John McCormack, a steadfast ally of LBJ on the Vietnam war. We get a look at how Tip O’Neil was an important player in the eventual impeachment hearings on Richard Nixon, managing the floor for Speaker Carl Albert and trying to manage Peter Rodino. O’Neils role in the selection of his pal Jerry Ford as Nixon’s Vice President is covered, and brought one of my favorite quotes from the book. As his friend Jerry Ford was about to assume the Presidency he had a conversation with O’Neil.
“‘Christ, Jerry isn’t this a wonderful country?’ O’Neil said. ‘Here we can talk like this and you and I can be friends, and eighteen months from now I’ll be going around the country kicking your ass in.’”
Farell, John “Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century” (pg 380) Little Brown

Speaker O’Neil interactions with the Carter Administration are also a very important, in my view, part of the book. O’Neil was a New Dealer, and the Carter Administration desire to approach things differently, and often times clumsily, led to some less than harmonious relations between a Democratic President and Speaker. His relationship as Speaker, and his famous battles and accommodations, with President Reagan, are covered. Really great stuff. The O’Neill interaction with a rising Georgia firebrand named Newt Gingrich is also covered, and that period began the change in the GOP that started the hyper-partisan atmosphere that exists today.

The author, in writing this book, covered Speaker O’Neil fairly. He did not gloss over some of the things that might today be considered deficiencies, but despite that Tip O’Neil comes through this book as an honest man who reached great heights, and was involved in some of the monumental issues of the day. He was underestimated by many, and considered by the GOP to be the perfect foil for President Reagan. But Tip O’Neil knew how to play the game, and President Reagan understood that O’Neil was a formidable opponent. Times may have been a changing but Thomas P. Tip O’Neil never forget his roots in the New Deal, and how government could help the less fortunate. He should be considered in the upper echelon on the Massachusetts list of political giants, and that is a quite a testament to him. This book, even today, is a great read. I am glad I looked through my library.

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Seabrook Reaches Tax Agreement With NextEra on Seabrook Station

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen yesterday announced that a three year tax agreement with NextEra, the owner of the Seabrook Station nuclear plant, had been achieved. The agreement covers FY 2018-2019-2020, and calls for NextEra to make tax payments of $36 million to Seabrook over that three year period. The payments will be annualized at $12 million. This agreement follows the last two year agreement that covered 2016-2017 that was worth $24.75 million. The assessment for Seabrook Station for FY 2018 was $849,858,400.

The national nuclear power industry has had rough times over the past few years. There have been multiple plant closures that have already occurred, with as many as nine plant closures scheduled for the next few years, including the NextEra owned Duane Arnold plant in Iowa. The challenges in that industry translate to difficult negotiations for the Board of Selectmen. They should be commended for their work here.

The agreement comes after the close of the fiscal cycle of 2018. In that period the Town of Seabrook assessed the plant at a value that resulted in a tax bill of $12,500,000. Although the Board was not required to abate that amount (the $500,000 could have been offset against the next two years of tax payments) they have determined, for legal and strategic reasons, to abate the FY 2018 over-payment.

This agreement was the result of long hours and much hard work by the Seabrook Board of Selectmen. Town Assessor Angela Silva was instrumental in reaching this agreement. Our thanks to NextEra, who worked diligently with the Town to reach this agreement.

Press coverage of Seabrook/NextEra tax agreement.

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No Sure Things in 2020. (Or Go Mid-West Young Man)

Is it too early to start looking at the 2020 Electoral College Map? In light of some of the predictions I am reading from both Democrats and Republicans I think a good look at the map might sober up many of the propagandists from both sides.

The key to the Trump victory in 2016, in my opinion, was the win in PA, WI, and MI. The so called Blue Wall crumbled and enabled Trump to claim 306 electoral votes, to 232 for Clinton. Of course there were other factors, including the Clinton loss of FLA and OH, but more on that in a bit.

In Pennsylvania Trump’s 2016 win was narrow, with a margin of 1.2%, getting him the big 20 electoral votes of the state. Trump also had more votes in PA than Clinton and Jill Stein combined, so the Trump win, while narrow, was convincing (shocking?) enough. In Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) the Trump margin was under 1% (.77%), and the combined Clinton/Stein vote exceeded the Trump vote by a very narrow amount (8300 or so votes out of more than 2,900,000 cast.) In Michigan (16 electoral votes) the Trump margin was even smaller, again less than 1% (.23%) and the combined Clinton/Stein vote exceeded the Trump number by 40,759 out of about 4.8 million cast.

There will be substantially more sophisticated looks at the map than mine, but there are some things I believe today that, if true, make predictions of an easy win by either side more propaganda than science. As a Democrat I look at the states of Florida and Ohio (especially Ohio) and just do not believe that the Dems can win there. If that is true then the battle shifts to the three states highlighted above. And if that is indeed the battleground for 2020 then despite the outstanding mid-term results for Democrats a Trump re-election is distinctly possible.

Let’s look at the first map, which shows the difficulties involved in this race. This map has Trump losing two of the three states from above (PA and MI)but winning Wisconsin. If he holds everywhere else where he won in 2016 he ekes out a victory. These three states will not necessarily march in lockstep, and as we can see two out of three (all else being equal) will not do it for the Democrats. The current polling has Joe Biden beating Trump in all three states, but at this stage those numbers do not mean much.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Let us look at the map with the Democrats running the table on the three states and winning the Electoral College with 278 votes. Even in that scenario Trump still is sitting at 260, and looking to pick off New Hampshire, where the Clinton margin of victory was under 1% (.4%), and Nevada, where Clinton had a margin of 2.4%. If he lost all three of the target states but flipped New Hampshire and Nevada he wins, with exactly 270 electoral votes.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

And now let us look at the nightmare scenario, an offshoot of the top map. Under the original scenario the Democrats manage to win both Michigan and Pennsylvania but Trump wins Wisconsin and wins the electoral college 270-268. We modify that by having the Democrats take the second Congressional District in Maine, which they lost in 2016. That would be worth one electoral vote, and would throw the election to the House of Representatives.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

My assumptions will likely be dismissed by some. Writing off Florida for the Democrats may be harsh, but in a big mid term surge for Democrats they could not beat a truly sub-par Republican candidate for Governor in 2018. Ohio, to me, just seems out of reach. Election results seem to bear that out. Clinton had some dreams of stretching the map a bit, but those ambitions should be secondary, in 2020, to accomplishing what is clearly achievable. Regaining PA, MI, and WI for the Democrats will make a Trump re-election very difficult. I would think that heavy Democratic resources will be poured into those states. You can count on Trump pouring it on in those three states, with presence and finance, and his current low poll numbers are no guarantee of victory for the Democrats. He will bring substantial campaign activity to New Hampshire, Nevada, and Minnesota (where the Clinton margin was 1.5%), looking to steal one of those.

If somebody tells you that the 2020 election is a “lock” for either party tell them that they need to read an electoral map. The 2020 election cycle is going to be one tough slog.

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Seabrook Goes Paperless for Board of Selectmen Meetings

The Town of Seabrook has gone paperless for Board of Selectmen meetings, allowing us to transmit data, including backup data, to the Board of Selectmen more efficiently, with significantly less staff time, paper, and copying costs for the Town. With the price of paper rising, and the Town already deploying tablets within our asset management program, we had the ability to provide tablets for meeting access to the materials (agenda and backup) for the Board. This access is not limited to the tablets, which primarily reside in Town Hall. Access to the intranet is available through desktops and laptops as well, giving the Board an ability to view agendas, past and present, by accessing the site through their own computers.

While we looked at several alternatives as we approached this issue, including agenda software, we opted to build an intranet with password access, and multiple layers to it, allowing us to scale the project to other Boards. We currently have tabs for Planning and Zoning, and will have full employee access for information postings (internal bulletin board) very soon.

While access to the current agenda is the main purpose of this effort we felt it important to facilitate Board access to prior meetings, including backup, in order to allow research, to be able to retrieve older documents without an endless paper chase, and to be able to view the video of the meeting. We have connected the intranet with our meeting video retention software, providing a direct link on the agenda page to the meeting video. Chasing video requests internally is now a thing of the past.

My thanks to IT Director Brian Murphy, who worked long and hard, and skillfully, on this project. My thanks to Deputy Town Manager Kelly O’Connor, who kept the work flow on schedule, and thanks also to Project Clerk Kelsey Mae Boscoe, who is now setting up the online agendas and backup. Great team effort.

An especially big thank you to the Board of Selectmen who really pushed for the project, and looked after it frequently. They recognized the financial benefits to the Town, and were invested heavily in the project.

The link to the media coverage here.

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A look at “The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour” by Andrew Rawnsley

The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New LabourThe End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A terrific, and detailed book, about the second and third terms of “New Labour” led by Tony Blair, and then by Gordon Brown. This book is a follow-up to the author’s “Servants of the People” look at the first term of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, and “New Labour.”

Like the first book the central theme remains the constant political warfare between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and how that impacted the governing of the Labor government. Of course the events they were dealing with in the second and third terms included Blair’s politically misguided Iraq war decisions, which the author covers in detail. That detail is not kind to Prime Minister Blair, nor should it be. Gordon Brown does not fare much better, and is shown in the worst light, both as a Chancellor constantly trying to push Blair towards the exit, and as the Prime Minister when he finally got Blair to go.

As British political history goes this book is invaluable. Tony Blair led Labour to three general election victories, and although Brown was often credited as the political mastermind of those victories it is quite apparent that Blair should have gotten a much larger share of the credit. When Blair exited the entire apparatus fell apart, although his Iraq decision played some role in the ultimate demise of “New Labour.” The constant battles between Blair and Brown were in many cases centered on policy, but the author shows us a conniving Brown using policy to try to try to undercut his own Prime Minister. Fairly or not the view has always been that Blair was more flash and spin than substance and detail, but I never bought that line entirely. Without a doubt Blair used media to hype, and yes, to spin, press coverage. But he knew his brief, and showed that knowledge during Prime Minister’s Questions, where he frequently made short work of the Tory Leader. The author sticks to that theme here, pointing to the Blair tendency to gloss over detail while embracing “vision.” It was observed by Sir Robin Butler that:

“the attitude of Tony Blair and New Labour was that it was their job to have the concept. They would define the New Jerusalem. It was the civil service’s job to get there. So if one failed to achieve everything that the Government wanted, this was somehow the fault of the technicians, the civil service. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Objectives require resources, organisations, discussions about capacity.”

Rawnsley, Andrew. The End of the Party (p. 288). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

“What Blair lacked was a sustained interest in the mechanics of delivery. ‘He latched on to issues,’ observes Sir Stephen Wall. ‘But he didn’t have a really determined follow-through.’49 Margaret Jay coined a phrase for the boredom in Blair’s eyes when he was forced to listen to the ‘nitty gritty’ of policy. She called it ‘the garden look’. His ‘gaze would shift’ and look longingly through the window and out into the back garden of Number 10.”

Rawnsley, Andrew. The End of the Party (p. 289). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The author covers the Iraq debacle at some length, and shows what I have always believed to be Blair’s true motivation: his desire to maintain the “special relationship” with the U.S., at all costs, and to be the “bridge” between Europe and George W. Bush. Blair believed he could influence the Bush Administration Iraq policy by proximity to the President, but his hopes in that regard were dashed by Bush (and Cheney and Rumsfeld.) The power in that relationship was obviously disproportionately in Bush’s favor, but the author speculates that Bush, as always, was underestimated politically by the British.

“Bush was a politician of some skill. This was rarely noticed by most people in Europe and wholly forgotten later when Bush became such a discredited figure. Yet it was true. Blair was once asked by a colleague: ‘What do you see in Bush?’ Blair responded: ‘He’s got charm and peasant cunning.’ This was a potent combination when allied with the most powerful office in the world. ‘I think Bush genuinely liked Blair,’ says Meyer. ‘But he used Blair.’ ‘Bush was a very artful politician,’ agrees another senior official. ‘Blair thought he was running the relationship, but he was being run.’ At Crawford and subsequently, Bush out-Blaired Blair. The Prime Minister thought he could ride the tiger; he ended up inside its stomach.”

Rawnsley, Andrew. The End of the Party (pp. 95-96). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Blair’s decisions on Iraq have had an outsized influence on British politics since, impacting the Labor Party and the entire system in ways still felt to this very day. Blair’s record will always have that monumental error on it, but he had plenty of substantial achievements as P.M. as well, including the Good Friday Agreement, which is also still playing a major role in British politics as Brexit negotiations continually founder on the issue of the Irish “backstop.” Blair proved himself, over the longer term, to be a vastly superior politician than Brown, whose tenure as P.M. had some shining moments, but was in many respects a continual train wreck. Rawnsley covers the Brown premiership in sometimes excruciating detail. Brown’s inability to make decisions, and then to make bad decisions when he got around to execution, is covered very well. Brown’s decision making process was neatly summed up by political observer Sue Cameron, who said:

“When John Major was in Number 10 and there was a big decision to be taken, he would order papers and he would read through them, often quite late into the night. The next morning, he’d make a decision. When Blair was in Number 10, he’d tell his civil servants to read the papers and give him a shortlist of options and in the morning he’d make a decision. With Gordon, he sends for the papers, he reads them late into the night and then the next morning he sends for more papers.”

Rawnsley, Andrew. The End of the Party (p. 524). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Brown ended up losing to a Conservative Leader who seemed to emulate Tony Blair, David Cameron. He seemed, after the fact, and maybe a little before the fact, to become aware of some of his own shortcomings as P.M. Brown was, and is, a very smart man, but he spent a career trying to push Tony Blair out of the P.M. job. When he finally got the crown he found that the job was a little harder than he thought. Some real irony in the fact that Brown, as P.M., had trouble with a Chancellor who would not buy into his program. I am sure Tony Blair found that irony more than a little satisfying. Great book, highly recommended.

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Happy Birthday Eric Clapton

One of the very greatest musicians of his era, and most certainly at the top of the list of the great rock guitarists, Eric Clapton turns 74 today. He has never been content to stay in one musical spot for very long, and while that has brought some short term disappointment it has brought us a career of outstanding music done his way. His ability to share the stage with some of the greatest talent in music has brought us all endless enjoyment. The below clips are from Clapton reuniting with the great Steve Winwood at a Crossroads festival to bring us what I consider to be the very best version of the Blind Faith masterpiece “Can’t Find My Way Home” as well as Clapton sitting in as a session player in 1967 for Aretha as she does “Good to Me As I Am to You.” Clapton’s wardrobe for that session might have been a bit out there but he showed what he could do sitting in with some very talented musicians. His meeting, and playing with, Duane Allman brought us some music through the Layla sessions that still amazes all these years later. Happy Birthday Slow Hand!

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The Seabrook CIP Seven Year Spending Review

Below I have posted the seven year review of Seabrook Capital Spending, along with a supporting document of tabs that show the basis of the numbers in the main report. This document is designed to show how much we are spending on capital, how we are financing it, and where those capital tax dollars are going. There have been some important changes made, principally the adoption by the Board of Selectmen of capital reserve accounts, which are highlighted in the report. The new annual financial report will be up next. For those that might dismiss the vital importance of annual capital plans please look at the dollars spent over the past seven years. There may not be a more important document produced by localities than the annual CIP.

Seabrook CIP Spending Seven Year Review 2019

Seabrook Capital Report 2019 Tabs

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