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Experts and Students Debate Corporate Spending in Political Campaigns

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Scott Flaherty

November 11, 2010

Boston, Mass. – Two teams of experts and students squared off in a debate last night at Boston University, with one side arguing that corporate spending increases engagement in the political process, while the other warned that it could lead politicians to govern under corporate influence.

The 28th Great Debate, held at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center, was sponsored by the university’s College of Communication and focused on the question: “Does the infusion of corporate money into political campaigns threaten the integrity of the American Political System?”

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, argued against allowing corporate spending in political campaigns, saying that corporations already had enough say in politics through indirect means, such as contributions made by individual executives, donations to political action committees, or the funding of issue ads.

Mann’s concern, he said, is “politicians, fearful of a corporate, independent campaign against them, becoming even less independent and more solicitous of corporate interests.”

Allison R. Hayward, the lead speaker for the opposing side, said the real threat to America’s political system is a lack of engagement and said allowing more spending can increase voter participation.

“The real threat to the integrity in our elections comes from aiming of the rules by incumbents in Congress,” said Hayward, adding that campaign finance laws may be driven by political motivations rather than actual need for regulation.  Hayward serves as vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics.

The debate has been moderated by Bob Zelnick, a professor of journalism at Boston University, since 1999.  In his welcome to the crowd, Zelnick noted the timeliness of the topic, with the midterm elections taking place last week, and January’s Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, striking down the rules prohibiting corporate political spending.

Graham Wilson, a professor of political science at Boston University, argued alongside Mann, saying that corporations don’t qualify as regular citizens because they can’t volunteer for the armed forces or go to prison.

Wilson said he thought it was nearly impossible for politicians to ask for money from corporations during a campaign and not expect to be under corporate influence when it comes time to govern.

He also said he’d rather see corporations pay for informed television debates instead of negative attack ads, which he said dampen voter turnout, drawing shouts of, “Hear, hear” from a few crowd members.

John Samples, who directs the Center for Responsive Government at the Cato Institute, said corporations are still restricted from contributing directly to candidates, campaigns and political parties.

After the debate, Samples disputed Wilson’s take on negative ads, saying that negative ads have actually been shown to increase voter turnout and inform the least-informed voters.  He went on to say, “You can’t go around making laws saying you can’t say negative things.”

James Robinson, a master’s journalism student, siding with Hayward and Samples, pointed to recent elections across the country in which candidates with more money lost, saying that funding is less important in political campaigns than effective mobilization of voters.

Austin Bay, a junior studying political science and international affairs, echoed many of the arguments made by his teammates, Mann and Wilson, but warned that since many corporations are international, allowing corporate spending could really lead to foreign influence on American elections.

The six debaters took turns at a center-stage podium, addressing a half-capacity crowd of about 250, mostly composed of students spread out on the first floor and balcony.

After each member of the team presented initial arguments, Zelnick, dressed in academic robes for the occasion, asked for audience contributions.  Six students addressed the crowd from microphones in the aisles, but only one student spoke against restrictions on corporate spending.

Jordan Smith, a third-year law student at Boston University, said he saw “some degree of value in all speech,” but later said the First Amendment “is not categorical” because there have always been limits on speech in certain instances.

Zelnick asked the audience to vote at the end—the majority sided with the debaters supporting limits on corporate spending.

Afterward, Zelnick said, the participants would be treated to “a noble feast at a good local restaurant.”


Job Growth on the Front of Voters’ Minds Heading into Election

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Scott Flaherty

October 28, 2010

Cambridge, Mass. — For Stephanie Turner, next week’s election for governor in Massachusetts comes down to one thing: “It’s all about employment.”

Turner, a 55-year-old from Medford, Mass. who works in law enforcement, said the state’s current governor, Deval Patrick, hasn’t done enough in his first term.  So, she said, “I’m looking into Charlie Baker.”

The top candidates for this year’s gubernatorial election have stressed economic growth as one of the most pressing challenges facing the state.  Patrick, a Democrat, has made the claim in campaign speeches that the state is leading the nation out of the recession due to the policies put in place during his first term.  Meanwhile, his main rival, Republican Charles Baker, has outlined a plan of his own to stimulate job growth by reducing costs to businesses operating in the state.

Either candidate will have his work cut out for him if elected—the most recent unemployment rate, for September, was 8.4 percent in Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a dozen interviews conducted Tuesday outside a shopping center on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, nearly all voters named the economy or job growth as something they hoped the next governor would work on.

Isabel Perkins, a 65-year-old antiques dealer, said she chose to support Patrick over Baker because she doesn’t “see how you can roll back taxes” with the state economy still deep in recession.

Perkins said if Patrick is reelected, “I hope he’ll tackle the job problem.  I think it’s not going to get solved, but he’ll just have to keep on it.”

Perkins, like Stephanie Turner, expressed another sentiment common to many of the voters interviewed—she’s not entirely happy with the job Patrick has done in his first term.  She described him as having “medium” success so far.

Lou Coveino, 55, who works as a contractor, agreed, saying, “There’s always room for improvement.”  Still, Coveino said he would vote for Patrick on Nov. 2.

Dave Connell, a 49-year-old stage hand from Worcester, said he also plans to vote for Patrick but said, “I’m not as happy as I had hoped to be.”

Connell went on to say that along with job programs, he would like the next governor to focus more on alternative energy, explaining, “I want windmills everywhere.”

Linda Smith, a 33-year-old speech therapist, said she’s supporting Patrick “because I’m in education” and said she thought the governor would do a better job improving schools than any of the other candidates.

In addition to job growth, energy and education, some voters identified a few other issues that would factor into their voting decision, including the candidates’ plans to help the poor and their stances on the recently passed CORI reform, which changed the state rules employers must follow when completing criminal background checks on potential employees.

None of the voters said they would support either of the gubernatorial candidates from outside the two major parties, Jill Stein from the Green-Rainbow Party and the state’s current treasurer, Tim Cahill, who’s running as an Independent.

The race continues to be tight between the leading candidates with the latest Rasmussen poll, which surveyed 750 likely voters on Oct. 27, showing Patrick with an advantage of 46 percent to 44 percent over Baker.  Cahill received only six percent support, while three percent supported other candidates and one percent was undecided.

The margin of error for the poll was four percent, indicating that Patrick and Baker are neck-and-neck.

Categories: News Stories

Obama Stumps for Patrick at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Scott Flaherty

October 16, 2010

Boston, Mass. — President Barack Obama addressed thousands gathered Saturday for a campaign rally supporting Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, stressing the importance of voter participation and saying the stakes could not be higher for November’s election, as a Republican return to power would lead only to a renewal of ineffective policies.

Speaking at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center Saturday Obama acknowledged that it was difficult to keep faith in government in the face of the hardships brought on by the economic recession, but noted that the upcoming election is “not just about the work we’ve done, it’s about the work we’ve got left to do.”

Obama accused the Republican Party of sitting on legislation to foster frustration among citizens so they could capitalize on people’s anger and ride it “right to the ballot box.”

Warning of the downsides to a return to power for the opposing party, the president said they would revert back to the same policies which led to economic recession.

He said that when Republicans were steering the country, they “drove into the ditch.”  He went on to say, “They can’t have the keys back, they don’t know how to drive.”

Addressing a support rally for Patrick, Obama applauded the governor on his first term achievements, saying Patrick has led the state to the top of the nation in student achievement, health care coverage, job growth, and developing clean energy.

“Because Deval Patrick chose to lead in the toughest of times, this state will lead into the future.”

Obama added that Patrick, who remained on stage while the president spoke, inspires him as a leader because he “represents the politics of conscience and conviction.”

Standing behind a podium, Obama implored the crowd of about 15,000, which filled the floor and balcony of the Hynes auditorium, to help the governor finish what he started by getting out the vote.

The governor spoke immediately before the president and discussed the difficulties facing the state and the country when he took office in 2006, saying, “Hope, as you will remember, was in short supply.”

Patrick characterized the recession as a “test of character” and said, “People began to wonder whether the American dream itself was up for grabs.”

The governor said that growing up, he learned that “hope and hard work is the only way to climb out a hole” and committed to retain optimism as he continued to work for the future of Massachusetts.

The governor then explained some of his administration’s accomplishments and differentiated his campaign from that of his rival, Charlie Baker, by explaining that the Republican’s campaign relies on “sound bites and slogans,” while his policies were “rooted in a better future.”

He stressed that the election was not about the politicians, but about the residents of the state.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray also gave a brief address, urging voters to support the campaign during the 17 days until Election Day.

The president spoke on a stage next to one of the auditorium’s walls, which was draped in an approximately 30-foot tall American flag.  A set of risers on stage behind Obama was filled with a group of about 70 supporters, who remained standing for the entirety of the president’s speech.

The president’s speech was disrupted on a couple occasions by a protest group claiming that Obama did not live up to his promise to increase funding for AIDS research.  On the second disruption, the president broke from his prepared remarks and addressed the protest group directly, inviting them to explore the Republican plan and said, “We increased AIDS funding.”

Leading up to the speeches by Patrick and Obama, several notable members of the Massachusetts Democratic Party addressed the crowd, including Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. Edward Markey, Sen. John Kerry, and Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino.

The other speakers picked up on many of the themes discussed by Patrick and Obama, explaining the high stakes, praising the governor’s record, and asking supporters to do what they could to assist in his reelection.

Before Menino took the stage, the Boston Children’s Choir sang the national anthem and James Taylor performed America the Beautiful.  The folk singer also performed a couple of his hit songs, dedicating “You’ve Got a Friend” to the governor.

One of the supporters, Andy Hochberg, of Richmond, Mass., said the rally worked to bridge the “enthusiasm gap,” a critique which has been leveled against Democrats throughout the election season.

Hochberg echoed Obama’s words and said that the Democrats are the party that “cares about the other.”  He said that Patrick’s successes in stimulating economic recovery and promoting education were “not just by chance.”

Obama walked on stage with U2’s song, “City of Blinding Lights” playing, and after thanking the other speakers and performers, admitted that he sometimes chooses to attend to other business while waiting to speak at campaign stops for other Democrats.  But, he said, “When Deval speaks, I listen.”

Categories: News Stories

Bioethicist Explains Physician Involvement in Holocaust Torture

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Scott Flaherty

September 30, 2010

Boston, Mass. — The director of the Project on Medicine and the Holocaust at Boston University described yesterday the role played by physicians in torturing Holocaust victims, and said physicians might be predisposed to torturing because they are trained to compartmentalize, rely on euphemism, and tend to display narcissism.

Wearing a loosened maroon tie and a blue dress shirt, Dr. Michael A. Grodin said that a “fantasy of power” is inherent to the profession, which partly explains why physicians are more susceptible to becoming perpetrators of torture.

Grodin went on to say that the typical training undergone by physicians aligns very well with factors that can lead someone to become a torturer, including a high degree of compartmentalization, a tendency toward sadism and voyeurism, a reliance on euphemism, and narcissism.

He said half of the Nazi party was composed of physicians who were intimately involved with much of the killing during the Holocaust and illustrated this fact with an organization chart which included Adolf Hitler and several other high-ranking Nazi officials, a majority of which were physicians.

Grodin spoke in a conference room at Harvard University’s Countway Library of Medicine.  Early in the presentation, he divided the audience of about 20 people, which included students and physicians, into groups of three or four to discuss possible explanations for what would lead to perpetrating acts of torture and why physicians might be more susceptible to involvement in torture.

During the group discussion, Dr. Leo Buchanan, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Harvard University Health Services, recalled an essay by philosopher Hannah Arendt, which discussed the “banality of evil” and was written in response to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking member of the Nazi Party.

Drawing on the essay, Buchanan said some Nazis did things for “silly reasons,” such as obtaining promotions to higher military rankings.

Buchanan and others in the group also discussed the power dynamic that exists between doctors and patients and how that dynamic might intensify in extreme circumstances involving torture.

In addition to the group breakout session, Grodin engaged the audience by asking and accepting questions throughout the presentation, saying “this is participatory.”

Grodin spoke quickly and spent the last half of his presentation showing a video including interviews with several torture victims, footage of Nazi death camps and the Nuremburg trial, and interviews with American soldiers responsible for torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Grodin is a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health, and is the founder and director of the Project on Medicine and the Holocaust, an “international center involved in the research, teaching, service and advocacy of contemporary and historical issues arising from the role of medicine in the Holocaust,” according to its website.

Grodin’s presentation was part of an ongoing series focused on the history of psychiatry and medicine, co-sponsored by the McLean Hospital Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education and the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library of Medicine, according to the Countway Library website.

Categories: News Stories