Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Always Morning in America

The AP released a poll last week about the state of the economy in this country. One notable summary paragraph, from the AP account:
People are skittish about the economy’s immediate future. Ask how things will be in a year and you hear a different story — and a remarkable show of optimism despite economists’ widespread expectations that a serious recession is brewing.
Americans are certainly an optimistic brood. After all, we come from a lineage of frontiersmen. Our ancestors picked up and moved west just because they believed they could make something of themselves. Our more recent citizens struggled to get here; in some cases risking their lives walking through deserts to realize their own American dreams.

We have always been the nation of a Jack Kerouac-style open road mixed with an overzealous, naive Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra.

So it should be no surprise to anyone-- certainly not me-- that in the closing moments of the 2008 campaign, Americans are choosing optimism over experience.

I would never expect Senator Obama to steal President Reagan's "morning in America" line, but it's fitting that the Democratic campaign has adopted a former Republican theme song at its rallies: "Only in America," by Brooks & Dunn.

Nine days to go.

NOTE: Excerpt from "Poll shows U.S. nervous, optimistic on economy," October 23, 2008.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Time to Vote: Things to Remember

I authored an article on voting for the Beacon Hill Times, on behalf of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, that will appear next week. It's below in its raw, unedited form. I figure it might provide some tips to those voting in Massachusetts on November 4.

NOTE: These tips apply to Massachusetts voters only (more specifically Boston). Rules might vary in other states.


Beacon Hill, it's time to vote. Beyond the civic reasons, many people in various levels of government pay close attention to who votes. By voting, we increase our voice to our elected officials.

That being said, below is a list of eleven tips related to the voting process. On Beacon Hill, we vote at one of three voting locations, depending on which part of the hill you live on: City Hall, The West End Library on Cambridge Street, and at the Firehouse on Mount Vernon. As noted below, your voting location depends precisely on where you live.

Here goes:

1) Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4. That's more than twelve hours to find the time to vote. Boston election officials are expecting a huge turnout. Lines are not too common, believe it or not, except at the beginning of the day. And if you are in a line, make friends with your neighbors.

2) Don't forget to read the entire ballot. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement this year to vote in the Presidential race. However, there are other items on the ballot that are of significance to Beacon Hill voters. For example, three ballot questions have spiked quite a bit of debate, including Question 1, which if passed would eliminate the state income tax. Roughly 2/3 of the neighborhood also has a contested State Senate race on the ballot.

3) For absentee ballots, don't forget proper postage. One stamp will not suffice to mail absentee ballots to City Hall. Correct postage is is 59 cents, and to be safe, affix two regular first-class stamps.

4) If you make a mistake at the voting booth, you can request a new ballot. Voters sometimes make mistakes. They misread a ballot, or they drop their pen, and it leaves a stray mark. If this happens, you can ask the warden in the polling location or an assistant for a new ballot. They will mark your original ballot void and give you a new one.

5) If they say you can't vote, don't just walk away. Polling officials have received elaborate instructions on what to do should a voter arrive who is not listed on their voting lists. No polling official wants to deny you the right to vote. They can call Boston City Hall for you. Depending on the rules, you are allowed to cast a ballot provisionally even if you are not listed on the voter roles. You made the effort to get to the polling location; don't leave unless your ballot is cast.

6) Don't wear any political buttons, t-shirts, etc. into the polling place. Technically, you are not allowed to advertise for anything related to the election, including candidates, positions on ballot questions, etc., while you are inside the voting booth. You are allowed to bring in notes and other information to help you vote the way you'd like.

7) Volunteers outside cannot block your way into the polling place. It is completely legal for individuals to stand outside the voting booth, hold signs, advocate for a candidate or position, and to give you literature. However, they cannot harass you. If you had trouble getting to the voting location, tell the warden inside. Their job is to protect your right to vote.

8) If you suddenly are going to be out of town on election day, you can vote in person at City Hall during normal business hours the week before the election. Typically you have until noon the day before the election, and the Elections Department is even willing to make special appointments. Call the Elections Department for more information at 617-635-3767.

9) "Where do I vote?" is a very common question. Your polling location is specific, because it relates directly to where you live. You cannot vote in any other location. Period. Not anywhere else in Boston, and certainly not anywhere else in another city or town. If you are concerned about where you should vote, call the Elections Department at 617-635-3767 and they will tell you. There is also a very simple way to look up your own information through the City of Boston website ( You can use the website to verify your registration and your polling location.

10) If you are in line when the polls close at 8 p.m., you still have the right to vote. If it's 7:59 when you arrive, and you see a line, don't walk away. The warden will look at the line when the polls close and will mark the spot at the end of the line. Remember, the warden wants you to vote, and if you are in line, they are happy you are there.

11) Take your time. You can spend as much time as you want inside the polling place and reading your ballot. If anything is confusing to you, ask the warden.

Enjoy the experience. Remember, every election is historic in its own way. Be a part of it!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Red Sox are not the lead news story today

Colin Powell's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama is the current lead story on Yahoo! News. It is definitely the biggest headline across the nation this Sunday. The decision dominated the conversations among my siblings and parents, when I went to Connecticut today for a small family gathering. My parents, who one would know from reading this blog are Obama supporters, wondered if the endorsement is a nail in the McCain campaign's coffin.

News everywhere, except in Boston. On WBZ-AM radio at 10:30 a.m. this morning, the top news story was the Boston Red Sox. The Powell endorsement played second fiddle to players on a baseball diamond. In fact, it took seven minutes into the news broadcast for WBZ to mention the endorsement. As we all know, the Red Sox are a win away from another trip to the World Series.

It reminds me of a poll the Boston Globe conducted online about this time four years ago. The Red Sox were in the World Series, having defeated the New York Yankees in seven games to win the American League pennant. The poll asked visitors what they would rather see happen: The Red Sox winning the World Series or Senator John Kerry defeating President Bush in the election.

The Red Sox World Series victory won the poll overwhelmingly. The election again was second fiddle. Shocked, I dialed up one of my close friends; one of the smartest people I know.

"How could people not have their priorities straight?" I asked.

"Umm. I think I want the Red Sox to win, too," was the answer.

Red Sox fans got their wish. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and again in 2007. The Curse if the Bambino ended, and all celebrated. Meanwhile, George Bush won a second term as President.

Now, I like baseball as much as anyone else. I plan to watch Game 7 of the ALCS tonight, and I look forward to the World Series. But I turned on WBZ radio this morning in my car to hear about Powell's endorsement. The Red Sox win really wasn't high on my priority list.

I am sure local TV stations in Boston paid even less attention to Powell's decision than WBZ radio. And that to me is both disappointing and scary.

It's especially disappointing given what I witnessed yesterday in New Hampshire. I spent the day canvassing for Barack Obama, Jeanne Shaheen (who's running for Senate) and Carol Shea-Porter (who's running for re-election to Congress). When I returned to the campaign office, I sat across from a young Army veteran who was calling other vets to urge them to support Obama. His speech would have certainly convinced me. He had recently returned from the front lines.

I think it's important for us all to keep things in perspective. The Red Sox victories are a cause for joy, but they should not overshadow what is real news. And the real news is this: In about two weeks we're all participating in what could be the most important election ever.

Facebook as a Mirror on Lives

I first signed up for Facebook in the middle of last year, and since then, it has been an experiment for me. I work in high-tech marketing, and many of my co-workers and clients have asked, repeatedly, how Facebook and other new-media tools fit into their programs. Being on Facebook, and Twitter, and some of the other social media tools, allows me to best respond.

At the same time, my work and non-work lives have overlapped. My friends on Facebook are a combination of current and former co-workers, old and new friends, classmates from the Norwich Free Academy and Boston University, and acquaintances I met on the various campaign trails and in my neighborhood.

There are good and bad things about being connected. First and foremost, Facebook, and this blog, allow me to update several people at once. I remember when a few friends of mine would send update letters in the mail on their lives. Typically timed to the holidays, the letters would give a snapshot into new homes, new travels, and new careers. I can't imagine ever having to write a series of letters, given the new media tools available (I do, however, enjoy writing holiday cards).

I feel like I am continuing several relationships in parallel over Facebook. How else would I know of my former high-school classmates that now have babies? How would I know about good news from the people who have shaped my life over the years?

When I see updates from co-workers on Facebook about feeling ill or having to do weekend chores, it allows me to pick up conversations instantly in the hallway. A trend I have seen is making significant announcements, such as wedding engagements, on Facebook. In my work, we talk a lot about simultaneous disclosure, where public companies are required to give important information to all audiences at the same time. How many times have I gotten into trouble for forgetting to tell certain people about news in my life. How neat is it to potentially say, "Hey, I decided to tell everyone on Facebook, and since you're a friend of mine on Facebook, you found out at the same time as everyone else."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Vote No on Question 1 in Mass.

This country's founding fathers set up a system of government that in some ways insulates the people from decision making. Done on purpose, our system ensures that the masses are represented, and not that the masses make decisions. The opposite approach, illustrated by the fabled New England Town Meeting, gives everyone a vote, and lets the population decide.

Growing up in a farm town in Connecticut, we had town meetings. Everyone would gather in the elementary school gym, and everyone would vote, up or down, on the budget. I was able to go to one such meeting before I moved to Boston to go to college. They are pretty neat.

Question 1 on this year's Massachusetts ballot demonstrates to me how our founding fathers were right, and how the masses can cause problems for our system. Question 1 eliminates the state income tax, stripping billions (with a b) of dollars out of the state budget. I am voting "no" on question 1, and I hope my neighbors across the state will do the same.

The fact that Question 1 is on the ballot is concerning. After all, to an average Joe-Six-Pack voter, of course you would vote to get rid of the income tax. It gives the people back a lot of money. It makes the politicians work to cut the budget to make the difference. With the broader economy uncertain, as an understatement, money in everyone's pocket is just what the doctor ordered.

Except were not talking about a modest cut here. We're talking about a question that would eliminate more than 12 billion dollars-- 40-percent-- of the state budget. The only way Massachusetts would make the difference is with significant cuts to cities and towns; and those cities and towns would have to raise their property taxes significantly.

Also, passing Question 1 is not a statement; if the question passed it would become binding. It would become the law of the state. The devastating affect on schools and our state's infrastructure is frankly unimaginable. In addition, passing the question would lead to job losses-- state workers who would be laid off.

In other posts on this blog, I have expressed disappointment with proposals by some of our state politicians on how to fix the budget problems in Massachusetts. Casinos, for example, are a band-aid approach. And while I do not have answers to the budget problems myself, stripping 40-percent of the state budget is not the answer either. It does not send a statement. Instead, it punishes everyone, including our children.

Question 1, in and of itself, is a reason to vote in November, even though the fate of the Presidential election here is not in doubt.

Last week, I volunteered to make some phone calls asking neighbors to vote NO on question 1. Thankfully, all those I spoke to understood that there is only one word that can characterize the question, and that word is "reckless."

If you live in Massachusetts, please vote NO on Question 1 this November.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

New Hampshire For Obama

(L to r) Reed Passafaro, Dave Levanto, Bonnie Levanto, Me, Nikko Mendoza
At the Obama coordinated campaign staging location
Manchester, N.H.
October 4, 2008

My parents came to Boston this past weekend to volunteer for Barack Obama. We drove to Manchester, New Hampshire on Saturday for a day canvassing there, walking door to door to identify Obama supporters and to persuade those still undecided.

Together with good friends Nikko Mendoza and Reed Passafaro, we piled into my Honda Accord, and traveled to two separate neighborhoods in Manchester. A couple of observations:

1) Finding a voter is good, but getting the yard sign commitment is a home run. Reed and my mother teamed up, and they worked out quite a system. Not only did they quickly identify Obama supporters, my mom would gently ask if the supporter wanted a yard sign.

2) There are still undecided voters in New Hampshire. Amazing to me, but they are still out there. I wonder sometimes what would get them to ultimately make up their minds. One voter I spoke to supported Hillary in the primary campaign and now only knows she will not vote for McCain.

3) The Obama campaign had a lot of snacks. Everything from donuts and muffins to rice cakes. It was an impressive spread. After canvassing, we stopped by a coffee hosted by Ethel Kennedy, where they had even more food.

4) Canvassing is tiring. My parents stayed at my apartment for the night after returning to Boston from New Hampshire. I could not stay awake past 10 p.m. Crazy!

5) Some canvassing acronyms we came up with to qualify houses before we went to their doors:
  • HPODS (pronounced H-Pods)= High probability of door slam. I actually had one door slam and one window slam on the canvass route. A classic HPODS house is one with a large fence and a "Beware of Dog" sign.
  • HPONOH (pronounced H-ponough)= High probability of no one home. A far more common classification, generally made if you saw no cars in a house's driveway.