Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I wrote the article below several years ago when the debt ceiling debate was all the rage in Washington. D. C. Then I got to thinking about technology-the net, smart phones, social media etc so recently added a bit of information at the end beyond the issue of the debt ceiling. At a later date I may revisit this issue and focus less on the debt ceiling and expand but view this as a starting point. I truly believe we are suffering from information overload and it is troubling to me on many levels.

____________________________

Pundits recently offered varying opinions about whom they thought benefited from the debt ceiling debate and debacle and came up with diverse responses including the Democrats, Republicans-Tea Partiers, Lobbyists, Wall Street fat cats, and even gasp, the people.

I’m not quite certain yet exactly who won the debate but I think social media, transparency and public participation definitely emerged as winners. That’s great news for the democratic process. But, are we better off because of it?

Transparency, social media and public participation won and while certainly welcome and refreshing will likely vex the lawmaking, deal making process forever by compromising it-intruding if you will, in a process long conducted somewhat behind closed doors and off the radar screen of many.

The lobbying process has been around for a long time but most of the work has been conducted behind the scenes as elected officials responded to various opinions, interests and political pressures to work the kinks out of an issue or legislation for better or worse depending on your perspective.

We all know there are countless “lobbyists” and recognize that the process that takes place will eventually end up benefiting some at the expense of the rest.  Lobbying isn’t a bad word and just about anyone can “lobby” on a given issue that they are passionate about and believe in it’s simply a very competitive, often frustrating, lengthy process.

Regardless, most of the time the process of lobbying is a long, complex one that involves passion, research, compromise, horse-trading, face-saving, reputation enhancing or whatever it takes to get the job done. A process that like it or not is by its very nature prone to being influenced by money, power, perceptions among other things.

Typically, public involvement has been in the form of meetings, phone calls to talk shows, letter writing, emailing, group visits to Congress, state level legislators, municipal officials. This was/is an often very slow vetting process prone to abuse, delays, unpredictable issues, ideological differences, complications, “politics” or even the whims of an elected officials’ staff as to whom to schedule and when.

Now, thanks to the growing influence and use of social media and the mandates for greater  transparency everyone- The Prez, Congressmen, the media, inmates, illegal immigrants, kids, housewives, students, foreigners,  terrorists, whack jobs, indeed everyone and anyone may be potentially be openly involved in the day to day process.

We’re constantly face booking, tweeting things about the process, legislation, who said what to whom every second. This hands on citizen process and involvement truncates the lawmaking, vetting, deal making, compromising process. While this is a great step towards a truly democratic, open process the potential for slowing it down and clogging up the system is great.

At the same time our form of government was created to allow us to elect others, to represent us in DC, at the State House in City Hall so we can go about the business of living our lives.

Today, the process of governing is becoming so transparent and immediate and in our faces that some of our leaders are afraid to take action, make decisions without being quoted, tweeted, castigated, and praised and it is making the lawmaking process even slower than the norm.

The increased transparency, social media and citizen involvement are positive of course because it puts our leaders on notice and in theory the “people” may/should benefit by knowing what is going on and who benefits from legislation. I fear the process may grind to a halt as individuals get more involved in the day to day details of legislating and politics and horse trading we know little about.

For instance, before the emergence of the debt ceiling crisis how many of us knew or even cared what it is, what is involved, and so on.  After all many of us are too busy looking for jobs, housing, affordable health care, food stamps to focus. Otto von Bismarck supposedly said we should never see sausages or laws being made and perhaps he was right on the money with that sentiment.

Can you imagine what the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention who gathered to sign off on our Constitution might have said, written, agreed upon if the public-the world had been involved? Back then 55 men signed off on the Constitution but the debt ceiling issue may have involved as many as 55 million trying to influence it, who knows? Do we really need to be involved in every decision that happens in Washington D.C, state and local government or do we have other things that we should be more concerned about?

In the 1770s’ news, political changes, presumably everything took forever to travel from the East to the West Coast and who knows how long to reach say Asia so there were far less implications, reactions good, bad or indifferent. Even back in my early days news reports about early space travel, election results, casualties in Viet Nam, and natural disasters a world away were transmitted to us if at all through grainy B & W TVs or transistor radios.

Communications tools and technology including computers, smart phones, the internet and social media among others have brought us closer together and helped us to stay in touch and make positive contributions to society. For instance we can now stay in touch with long lost family and friends even though we may never see them in person preferring instead to communicate from our homes, offices or even bathrooms.

Last year’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which found people from around the world dousing themselves with ice and challenging one another to do the same raked in millions to help battle the devastating ALS disease. In another instance a woman in desperate need of a bone marrow match for a family member used social media to find one presumably saving her spouse from death.

However, along with the good that technology has brought I believe we are inadvertently (and I daresay at times intentionally) stressing one another out, angrily taunting and insulting one another from afar because the net and social media have enabled us to do so seemingly without retribution. If someone posts a story or picture about anything good or bad, there is going to be a guaranteed response regardless and sometimes it is nasty, biased or include language and imagery that should never be shared.

This does not even take into consideration the fact that terrorists, serial killers, animal and child abusers, ISIS whack jobs, crazed world leaders and others can establish facebook and twitter accounts. These individuals can then gain privileged information about trade secrets, security measures, develop bombs and easily assimilate with others thanks to information available and earn their 15 minutes of fame or infamy- AND WE ARE ALL HELPING THEM TO DO SO AND PERPETUATE THEIR MADNESS.

We have become a world of individuals who are too dependent and obsessed with information that may or may not have any bearing on our day to day lives and while it may be useful, informative and life enhancing it is making us crazy. There is much more that can be said about this issue and I am hopeful that I have sparked debate and caused you to think a bit more about it.

What Christmas is all about. Helping one another

David Flanagan

As the holiday season approaches I thought of sharing the following piece. I wrote the story about twenty years ago when my kids (and I) were much younger. I decided to leave it unchanged from the original despite editorial changes I would make now if rewriting the story.

The story appeared in various local newspapers on the editorial page and I think my angst over being able to provide for my children as a parent then is perhaps even more true for many now given the current economic climate.

_________________________________

Over the past few months, we’ve been continuously bombarded by an endless flow of advertisements from merchants heralding the arrival of the holiday season and announcing the availability of their products.

Of all the merchants hawking their wares and urging us to spend our hard earned dollars, perhaps none are as persistent or potentially influential as those who represent the toy and games industry. Television commercials, full-page newspaper ads and glitzy flyers all implore us to do one thing-run out to the nearest mall ASAP and pick up as many items as possible in time for Christmas.

Have I been affected by their pleas? Of course, toys and games are loads of fun, and after all don’t I have two kids at home who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa? Let’s face it, the advertisements have worked or shall I say the arm twisting has been extremely effective. I mean, what type of father would I be if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure that the kids are amply rewarded with as many toys and games as possible? Talk about guilt feelings!

So recently I found myself at the Independence Mall among hundreds of other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other would-be Santas joined in the quest for the ideal gifts. As I wandered down aisle after aisle of bikes, games, dolls, Playstations and stuffed animals I found myself simultaneously awed and disheartened over the exorbitant cost of toys today.

Forty dollars for a not-so-cute doll, fifty bucks for a Legends of Wrestling videogame, $130 for My Size Barbie as Rapunzel and $250 for the Star Wars 25th anniversary LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer.

As my journey continued I experienced tremendous feelings of ambivalence toward the holiday season. On the one hand I was thrilled at the thought of being able to purchase gifts for the kids and witnessing the pleasure that such items would surely bring. Conversely, I felt great concern and guilt over whether I would truly be able to afford enough gifts to ensure such pleasure.

At the same time, I began thinking about other parents who, as a result of the current economic climate, may not have the wherewithal to feed, clothe or house their children, never mind smother them with gifts. What does a single mother tell her child on Christmas morning when the boy rushes over to their tree and finds that there’s nothing beneath it?

How does an unemployed father answer a child who asks, as tears well up in her beautiful blue eyes, what has she done that was so wrong, so terrible that it could cause Santa to abandon her this Christmas? What crosses a little boy’s mind when he visits his friend’s house and notices a mountain of toys and games heaped beneath the tree?

While thinking about these questions I found myself drifting back to my own childhood and recalling Christmases past: the annual Christmas Eve ritual of leaving out hot cocoa and cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, my sister and I opening our gifts and the family gatherings at Nana’s home in Dorchester.

How wonderful those Christmases were and how fortunate I am to have such pleasant, enduring memories of them. Yet, while my Christmas memories are indeed positive ones, there were several that may not have been quite so enjoyable had it not been for the generosity and compassion of various charitable organizations and their contributors. Charities and Good Samaritans that come to mind include the men and women who threw the annual Christmas party in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Globe Santa in Boston, Scituate Community Christmas, the Kennedy Center and Townie Santa, and the Salvation Army among others.

Unless you have been fortunate to have received assistance from one of the many charitable organizations that exist I’m not sure that you can ever really appreciate how wonderful a service they provide to their recipients. Such organizations and the volunteers who support them truly embody the spirit of Christmas and can make a profound difference in the lives of those dependent upon them.

Think about it-total strangers coming together, giving of their time, money and energy to help make life a bit more bearable for people whom they may never meet. That to me is truly what Christmas is all about.

Has Christmas become too commercialized and focused on material pleasures and the temporary satisfaction that showering one another with gifts during the holidays brings? Yes, of course it has and in reality there is so much more to Christmas and the holiday season such as getting together with family and friends and celebrating how much we mean to one another. It also means reaching out to help someone in need and trying to bring a smile of joy to those we encounter in all that we do.

Like most parents I have always tried to instill within my children the same strong values of honesty, compassion, hard work that my mother provided to me by way of example.

However, my point here is that when your kids are young you simply have to try to find the right balance of making their wishes for material things come true until such time as they’re mature enough to realize there is so much more to Christmas morning than finding a pile of gifts beneath the tree. Sure, many never mature to the point where they acknowledge that there is more to life than just self satisfaction but that is a story for another day.

A neighbor informed me that she doesn’t support Christmas only-oriented charitable organizations since she believes it is inappropriate to focus on helping kids one day a year while ignoring their plight for the other 364 days. I can understand the point that my friend is trying to make; however I totally disagree with her. Yes, of course we should try to help one another each and every day of the year. Unfortunately, however, there’s really no way that we’ll ever be able to fully eradicate the poverty, hunger and hatred confronting mankind, nor ease the pain and suffering that people, particularly our children, are experiencing with an ever-growing frequency.

The least that we can do is to try to brighten up their day and bring a smile to their face around the holidays when they might otherwise be forgotten.

To those who can afford to put a little bit of money or time aside I would ask that you consider making a contribution to one of the many Christmas charitable organizations that work tirelessly to ensure that no one is forgotten during the holiday season. I can assure you that your compassion and consideration will be appreciated and never, ever forgotten.

DAVID R. FLANAGAN

Flanagan & Associates

DavidRFlanagan@gmail.com

Flanagan & Associates is an independent consulting firm offering government relations, community outreach, business development & grassroots public affairs capabilities to municipalities, political candidates, & corporations. Our team assists clients by facilitating meetings w/key decisionmakers & cutting through bureaucracy in all sectors saving valuable time, money & resources.

David Flanagan offers extensive experience in state & municipal government, private industry, nonprofits, unions, insurance, construction, transportation, corrections & trade associations. Flanagan has vast experience in political campaigns for candidates at every level of government.

An experienced communications professional Flanagan’s experience includes four years as director of business development for Road to Responsibility (RTR), a nonprofit supporting disabled adults.

Previously, he served as manager of community/government affairs for the MBTA & community liaison during the MA DPW’s $300M Central Artery North Area Project.

His background also includes serving as director of business development for Carlin Insurance & as government relations director for Associated General Contractors of MA.

Flanagan, has a BS from Boston State College & a master’s degree in public administration from Suffolk University’s Sawyer School of Management. He is a former staff director for Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan & director of special projects/neighborhood liaison for the Office of Neighborhood Services under Mayor Ray Flynn.

Originally interested in pursuing a law enforcement career Flanagan served as a Deputy Sheriff/Jail Officer at the Charles Street Jail in Boston (now Liberty Hotel) for four years after graduating from college.

In addition, Flanagan serves as Lead Case Manager for RTR providing leadership to a team responsible for the support, evaluation & treatment of developmentally & physically disabled adults in group residential settings & is MAP (Med Adm) & CPR certified.

Recently Flanagan began working with New England Village, a community located in Pembroke, MA that serves adults w/intellectual & related developmental disabilities.

I wrote this article five years ago and have not edited it in some time. As much as the internet, social media and related technologies have been a boon to civilization I also believe it is having an increasingly negative impact. Now we can no longer live our lives in ignorance since we are constantly deluged with info we have little control over. Information is great if we take action but if we just post about it and simply spread the message what are we really accomplishing?

______________________________________________________________________

Why do employers fear social media and ban or limit their employees from using it during work hours? Do employers have a valid concern about social media use by employees and do they have the right to limit or ban its use? Will Executives over 50 ever get Social Media and why do many resist embracing and promoting it?

I’ve seen these and similar queries posed as more and more news stories break about employees using or abusing social media outlets while ostensibly working. Granted there is a valid place for social media and a need for it to enhance an organization’s communications abilities or reach. However, I believe employee use must be monitored during work hours and guidelines implemented concerning what is communicated by whom and when, where and why.

Common sense and respect for the rights of others should prevail when it comes to the use of social media but in reality some individuals simply lack such traits. Employees must be educated about what types of information should be transmitted regardless of whether it is during work hours or after hours when it relates to their employer.

For instance, should a hospital employee be able to post patient information or photos on Facebook? Should an employee working in corrections display pictures of an inmate’s cell online? Is it reasonable for an employee of a company providing supplies to the US Department of Defense to discuss contracts or display pictures of prototypes?

I appreciate social media and embrace all it has to offer but also believe it is simply one more tool (albeit a powerful one) to be used to communicate effectively along with the more time tested, traditional methods. As such, I wanted to offer my own humble opinion about why there may be reluctance on the part of some to accept social media and all it has to offer if used judiciously.

Many executives or individuals in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s are used to working in an environment that is very private, personal and reserved. Those who are even older remember wartime slogans such as “Loose lips, sink ships” and are concerned about indiscretion out of concerns about privacy, confidentiality breaches, reputations, decorum, trust, lawsuits and so much more.

In this era of increased reliance on new technologies, ever changing communications channels and greater transparency the ability to develop and maintain trust is perhaps more important than ever before as we struggle to keep things in check.

At this point corporations, government agencies and individuals should be gravely concerned with how much information should be shared online and otherwise and with whom. As a business owner do you really want to do business with an organization or agency whose employees openly discuss your business, contracts, staff, and profits online?

The ability of workers engaged in confidential work activities to note their every movement (via Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin et al) and post pictures of their work site or seemingly private after hours proclivities is terrifying to many business owners since it can cause their clients to lose faith and trust in them among other things. So while it is important to develop ones online brand and identity to effectively compete it is similarly necessary to preserve trust above all else.

When I first got involved in Boston politics and organizing political campaigns I remember the older activists suggesting that one should abide by a “Code of Silence” such as that attributed to Marty Lomasney, Ward boss of Boston’s Ward 8 regarding the need for discretion.

Lomasney, who served Boston as a state Senator, Representative and Alderman may best be remembered for allegedly saying that when it comes to discretion “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” Today, that quote could probably be updated by adding “never put it in e-mail, text it or post it to Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, Linkedin” and on and on and on.”

The advent of things such as the internet and cell phones while incredibly useful have enabled people to easily share information about themselves and conversely learn more about the other person. In many cases this has led to privacy invasion, identity theft, embarrassment because of past/current transgressions that suddenly become fodder for gossip etc. Then of course misuse can also lead to other events such as claims of libel, slander and potential lawsuits.

I think perhaps many erroneously believe that branding and creating or preserving one’s reputation somehow just materialized over the past few years due to the internet and social media.

Senior executives are used to doing business privately and maintaining a reputation as being staid and creating a brand that buyers and the creators themselves could be proud of and believe in. Think IBM, Sears, Ford or any of the millions of iconic businesses that have been around forever or finally merged or collapsed after many, many years of successful operation.

Of course then there are issues of competition and concealing company secrets from competitors out of a desire to be successful and make a profit and maintain patents from infringement and theft.

Think of corporate or government communications for instance. Generally there has been one department, team or individual responsible for publicity, marketing, or otherwise spreading good news and minimizing the bad. Requests for information have generally been channeled via the department, team, and individual so everyone is on the same page.

If a crisis or incident happens in a government agency or say a hospital historically there has been a crisis communications plan with one, unified voice to protect the interests of the institution and those involved. To many executives social media is viewed as being unrestrained and loose since conceivably everyone within the organization can “discuss” every minute detail of a crisis to the “world” instantaneously.

Today in our age of sound bites and immediacy-information sharing that is unfiltered, too personal or overly transparent can be cause for concern to many older and younger individuals alike.

This includes revealing every private moment about ones life, love life, sexual escapades, what they had for breakfast, how much alcohol they had to drink the night before or any other event that people like to talk about seemingly without reservation. It seems like only yesterday people would say “that’s way more information than I need to know” if you provided them with too many intimate details about your life.

Its one thing for individuals to tweet about themselves, reveal secrets about their lives and loves on Facebook, Linkedin or any other venue but quite another thing to share such items or confidential corporate information especially while ostensibly working.

To many executives such activities while useful in extolling the virtues of an organization can be viewed as potentially damaging to one’s brand and time consuming and wasteful. This is especially worrisome to executives if it is done haphazardly, consistently, illegally or in a manner that causes libel, slander of injury to another.

It’s incredible how much information some are willing to share with the world. Some individuals cherish their privacy and have a greater sense of privacy, decorum and tastefulness than others who seemingly seek to tell the world about every event in their lives. Think sexting and sharing pictures of oneself nude, drunk or engaged in what should be private pursuits via a cell phone, net, Instagram and on and on.

I’ve personally come a long way concerning what I’m willing to share. Social media obviously offers tremendous benefits but many believe it should be prudently used in the work environment since so much is potentially at stake. I agree.

 

This piece appeared in The Boston Metro free paper several years ago and a recent discussion and visit to the Liberty Hotel sparked fond memories of my first post college full time job in law enforcement.

I stayed at the Liberty Hotel in the old Jail section in February 2009 , stayed again in 2010 , frequently visit for dinner and drinks and it is always awesome to return over 25 years after leaving the building as a Jail Officer for the last time.

_________________________________

During a recent visit to Boston I passed by the former Charles Street Jail and was amazed by how much it has changed since the decision was made to knock down part of the structure, expand the Massachusetts General Hospital and build a hotel on the site. The Charles Street Jail designed by noted architect Gridley J. F. Bryant and built in 1851, was home to thousands of pre-trial and sentenced detainees who passed through its portals before they closed permanently in the 1980’s.

The MGH expansion project has several components including the dismantling of the Jail’s East wing to accommodate the construction of an underground garage and 400,000 square foot Ambulatory Care Building. Another element is the erection of a 220,000 square foot building for outpatient surgery. Part of the Jail will be restored and anchored to a 300 room hotel and conference center being built by developer Dick Friedman. In addition, the Charles Street MBTA station will be renovated.

I was intrigued by the project because of my own personal history with the jail, the MBTA where I was employed until recently as the Manager of Community Affairs and the MGH. As a child I made an inordinate amount of trips to the MGH thanks to various illnesses, broken bones and operations. On each occasion my mother and I would walk past the Jail en route to the adjacent hospital and I always wondered about what was going on within the confines of that imposing granite structure.

What manner of individual could possibly be housed within such an immense fortress surrounded by enormously high walls adorned with razor sharp barbed wire, I would ask. “Criminals live there my mother would explain” whispering as though they might hear. Little did my mother or I realize at the time that her son would one day end up behind those seemingly impenetrable walls.

During the four years I “served time” at the Jail I witnessed some extraordinary situations and had a number of experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. One of the most frustrating circumstances the guards would encounter were certain reform minded policies and civil libertarians who catered to the inmates as though they were guests staying in a five star hotel. Little did we know that there would one day be a top notch hotel situated on the site.

During my tenure some of the most notable detainees whom I encountered were those awaiting trial for numerous spectacular and well publicized crimes including the massacre at the Blackfriar’s Lounge, the slayings at the Sammy White Bowladrome and the Suffolk County Courthouse bombing. Other detainess include those accused of the rape and murder of a young nurse on Commonwealth Avenue whose last frantic words were captured on a 911 taped call and the trio arrested for the killing of a popular Harvard University football player, killed in Boston’s Combat Zone.

While I was employed at the Jail there was an unyielding public discourse about the jail and whether it was fit for human habitation.  Lawsuits, civil liberties actions and prison and jail reform movements eventually led to the requirement that jails and prisons be cleaner, more modern, more humane places of detention.

A 1973 U.S. District Court case was the impetus that led to the decision that a new jail must be constructed in Suffolk County. In U.S. District Court case Civil action #71-162-6 Inmates of the Suffolk County Jail et al vs. Eisenstadt (Sheriff), the Charles Street Jail was found to be “unfit for human habitation”.

In this instance the Court found that the quality of incarceration at Charles Street to be “punishment of such a nature and degree that it could not be justified by the state interest in holding defendants for trial”.  It should be noted that a key element in the Court’s decision in this case is that a jail is a place for the detention of “pre-trial”, and thus presumably innocent individuals, as opposed to a prison, which is a place for the incarceration of those found guilty of a crime. That Court decision led to the closure of the Jail and the move to preserve the historic granite edifice which ultimately led to the brilliant MGH plan.

It is quite interesting to think about Charles Street and its prominent place in Boston’s history and visualize how it will look once the current construction project has been completed. Imagine that one day hotel guests will pay top dollar to stay on the grounds of a facility that formerly housed many of the states’ most notorious criminals in a setting deemed “unfit for human inhabitation”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By David Flanagan

There he was, propped up against the dark, rusty, cold metal stairwell on the second floor of 160 Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown’s Bunker Hill housing projects. “Davey, can you help me? Can you take me home?. I looked and realized that it was Jim, one of my neighbors, father to several of my friends. Jim, who must have been in his 30’s or 40 tops, was lying there, legless, totally out of it, less than a quarter mile away from his apartment, his wife and five kids. What does he want with me, I thought?

“Davey”, he cried out. I looked at his hair, which seemed to be desperately trying to escape from under his scalley cap, his sun browned, wrinkled face and tired eyes trying to focus on me. “What do you want, Jim?” I asked, more irritated than patient at his calling me. I felt bad for Jim. This wasn’t the first time that I had seen him, legless, filthy, roasting under a fog of alcohol, asking for some change, a handout, a little conversation perhaps.

It seemed that all Jim wanted from me this time was a lift home. Except in this case, a lift home would be one traveled upon the shoulder of an embarrassed, shy twelve year old. “Come on Jim” I said and helped him from the stairwell. “Put your arm around my shoulder Jim, you’re heavy” Embarrassed, I prayed to God: please don’t let anyone see us limping along or they’ll think he’s my father.

I felt a thousand eyes upon us as we approached Carney Court. Dozens of kids playing out in the warm, summer sun. How could I have thought that our journey would go unnoticed. Stumbling along, moving much slower than I could bear, our trip lasted a lifetime. What if his kids see us, after all Billy and I shared a class at the Warren Prescott and brother Bobby was also a friend. Please, God let this ordeal be over soon.

As we walked across O’Reilly Way, Jim’s arm slipped from my shoulder and we almost fell into the street. My grip held, I propped Jim up and we continued, knowing that relief was only several hundred feet away. But, soon I could see Billy and he saw us.

My mind soaked up the look on Billy’s face with each step as his father and I drew closer, walking arm and arm toward him and our friends. Billy walked over to us and said “thanks Dave” and without saying a word to his father, relieved me of my burden and my shame. I walked away, head down, embarrassed about being seen with Jim and having to deliver him to his son, my friend in that condition. My shame and embarrassment could only have paled in comparison to that felt by Billy and his family.

Over the next few years there would be many other episodes involving Jim and his losing battles with the bottle and self-respect. Battles where there were clearly no winners, only losers. Jim passed away several years later from cirrhosis, but his pride, his will and his family’s hopes died long before he did. Several of Jim’s children ended up involved in violent crimes and were imprisoned in various prisons across the US.

I wonder how different things might have been if Jim had been able to hold a job, behave like a husband and father should, find his way home and win his battle with the bottle. The losing battle that Jim and his family waged against alcohol was fought by many of us in the projects. Unfortunately for Jim and his family, their losing battle with alcohol was a very public one with tragic consequences. For some the battle was far less public but in many cases the results no less tragic.

The story above is true but the names have been changed to maintain privacy and will never be revealed.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/dflan14

David Flanagan

Herald op/ed page several years ago

Not long ago I read a newspaper account about several of my boyhood friends from Charlestown who were sentenced to life in prison on charges that include murder and armed robbery. Anyone else reading the story might have thought about it a bit then perhaps moved on to the sports pages. But I put the paper down, closed my eyes and drifted back to a simpler time many years ago, when all that my friends and I could think about was how to best spend a lazy summer day.

Looking back, I see a group of teenagers playing cards on the cold, dirty, concrete steps at 17 Carney Court, one of dozens of red brick buildings in the 1,000 unit Bunker Hill housing projects. In the background, that quintessential 60’s song “Light My Fire” blasts from a transistor radio.

As our interest in the card game wanes, our thoughts turn toward whether to play a game of pickup baseball, ride our bikes or head to the nearby Mystic River for a swim. In many ways we were no different from kids beyond the project walls, yet at the same time we were worlds apart.

I see a group of kids dependent upon welfare: living in homes without role models: with visible and not-so-obvious alcohol or drug abuse. Some of these children went to bed each night never knowing what they would wake up to the next morning and praying that the next day would be better than the last.

I wonder about my old friends, about what they have been up to for the past 35 years and whether they are truly guilty of the crimes. I’m flooded with emotions about our childhood, growing up in the projects and the tragedy of living day to day in an environment that offered little hope of fulfilling dreams and goals.

Project kids often do not have access to employment and educational opportunities, family vacations or a night out at a first class restaurant. Nor do they have perfectly manicured lawns, little white picket fences, fine clothes, privacy or even a cellar for saving cherished memorabilia. The often forgotten and maligned project kids sometimes have to step over drunks and drug addicts and wade through human and animal waste to get into their apartments.

These kids must learn how to endure the sneers and taunts of those living outside the projects, and how to smile cheerfully while silently seething when someone calls them a “project rat” and tells their children to stay away from “them”. Kids from the projects must learn to distinguish the echo made when a 38 caliber is fired from the sound of fireworks and to look the other way when they see something they shouldn’t have seen. Above all project kids must strive to never, ever lower their eyes and stare at the ground in shame when asked where they live.

I can’t help but wonder about what effect the unique, personal challenges each of my friends faced as kids may have had on their ability to “make it” and prosper within society. Each of us knew what the others were going through we just chose to remain silent about it, hoping that by maintaining our “Code of Silence” things would get better but they never did. Regrettably, many of these kids did indeed live “lives of quiet desperation”.

Then it seemed as though hardly a month passed by without hearing about the death of one of our friends succumbing to the thrust of a knife, a flash from a gun or the ravages of drugs. The helpless and often terrifying feeling of never knowing who might be next or whether the madness would ever end. Wakes and funerals packed with grieving friends and heartbroken family members numbed by the senseless passing of children far before their time.

Normally, I am cynical toward those who seek to blame an individual’s antisocial behavior on his socioeconomic background, parents, or self-esteem. However, deep within me I know that a number of my friends would not have been murdered or incarcerated, and wouldn’t have committed crimes or abused drugs if they had been exposed to a bit more compassion, hope or opportunity as youngsters.

A lack of opportunity or hope is by no means an excuse to commit a crime or to hurt another, but I suppose it is possible that those without either may fall victim to external influences and temptations at a greater rate. Returning to the present, opening my eyes, I thought, “There but for the grace of God, go I” before I turned my attention to the sports pages.

Baltimore…A case of life imitating art?

I watched the police drama Blue Bloods recently and in this episode the NYPD deputy chief and his wife were killed in a probable gang hit because of the former’s anti gang efforts, In response, Police Commissioner Frank Reagan made the case a top priority but advised his officers to “play by the rules” and make sure everything was done by the book. He demanded that the police exercise restraint ostensibly to ensure the culprits were brought to justice and that charges against them would be air tight. Reagan was obviously also concerned about the impact of social media, public relations and potential outcry from the citizenry resulting from an aggressive police response

A witness to the shooting refused to cooperate since he didn’t think the police could protect his family and at the conclusion of part one of this two part story there was an attempt on his life by a would be gang member. Mention was also made of the fact that the local gang members were emboldened by the lack of a swift police crackdown. Apparently rival gangs had decided to band together against the police because of their aggressive anti gang efforts.

I mention the Blue Bloods episode because I am struck by the craziness in Baltimore and intelligence reports that gangs across the US are considering (or already) uniting to take on the police. If this is happening or does we are in for a very rocky road ahead. Some may feel that as bad as gang rivalry has been and is it is preferable to groups bonding together against the police or the rest of us.

The apparent police “stand down” in Baltimore mirrors the “stand down” or at least demand by Commissioner Reagan that the police respond in a measured way so as not to incite, use “excessive force”, arouse public scrutiny or become victims of social media. The declining relationship between law enforcement and the public in Ferguson, NY, Baltimore and other instances is extremely troubling to say the least. We are on the verge of becoming a nation under martial law.  

Regardless of who was at fault in places like Ferguson and Baltimore police departments nationally have been under public and political pressure to practice restraint especially given the impact of social media. There is a long history of finger pointing and blame over whether the police or members of the public have acted inappropriately in matters leading up to highly publicized incidents especially of those of a racially charged nature. Often in practicing restraint things grow out of hand and in the end the police have to compensate and use more force than originally intended which compounds the problem.

We are at an important point in law enforcement where we need to figure out a better way to effect an arrest, quell a mob and preserve peace without people (including public safety personnel) dying, inciting unrest or allowing anarchy such as is happening in Baltimore. Unfortunately, sometimes force has to be used to contain protests that have grown out of hand and public safety personnel cannot be afraid to take aggressive steps to maintain calm. The line of police officers in Baltimore standing firm and at times basically “running away” and throwing rocks back at their attackers rather than containing them was troubling to watch. 

Given those recent problems there is an uncertainty and inability on the part of our leaders to decide the best way to handle such matters. This certainly does not bode well for the relationship between law enforcement and the public and any efforts to preserve public safety and avoid continued mob violence and anarchy. Seems to me that this is going to become or perhaps already is one of our most pressing national concerns that must be addressed.

Hope to see you at the Kennedy Center 50th Anniversary!!

http://www.kennedycenter.org/50thbenefit

Now that winter is finally over, or so we think-I’m looking forward to a great spring and summer of getting together with family and friends, spending time at the beach and participating in various activities especially back in my old hood Charlestown.

Lots of great events coming up over the next few months in Charlestown including fundraisers for various charities, times to honor beloved Townies, the Bunker Hill Day Parade and others.

Among the many events I am really looking forward to participating in is the Kennedy Center’s BBQ celebrating 50 years of service to Charlestown to be held on June 20. Like so many others the Kennedy Center was there for my family and me when we were living in the projects back in the day and needed a helping hand.

Later, I served as a member of the Kennedy Center Board and over the years have worked with the Center and many of you on various neighborhood issues.

The Kennedy Center has helped so many families over the years and I am looking forward to joining old friends on June 20 for an awesome night and giving back.

The event will be an entertaining evening with a great BBQ from Red Bones, a chance to rekindle memories with friends and neighbors, my favorite – dancing, a key note speaker and auction.

All the funds raised by the event will help support the Kennedy Center’s ongoing mission of educating young children, supporting seniors’ ability to live independently in the community, and helping neighbors in need.

As many already know Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will serve as the Guest Speaker for the evening and Pulitzer Prize winning Author and former Boston Globe reporter, Stephen Kurkjian will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Kurkjian’s recent book Master Thieves concerns the theft of $500 million worth of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and is tops on my must read list.

Charlestown resident and one of my favorite comedians Tony V will assume the role of Auctioneer. The celebration will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Medford Street.
Looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at the event.

For more information go to http://www.kennedycenter.org/50thbenefit

Thank you and hope to see you in June.

http://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/soft-receivership-t-mean/#.VPreE6ZrCbJ.twitter

As someone long interested/involved in local Boston, MA history, government and politics I am always trying to stay abreast of ongoing public policy issues and the recent MBTA “collapse” under record breaking snow is no different. I enjoy adding personal observations to these issues so wanted to share this Pioneer Institute piece. Regardless of whether you agree with Pioneer’s philosophy or not their recommendations are always well constructed

In this piece Pioneer calls for the MBTA to be placed in “soft” receivership as has been used in Springfield rather than full receivership as was the case in Chelsea. As discussed in the recommendation “the major distinction…is that in the case of the city of Chelsea, the receiver obtained the power to break so-called Chapter 150E protections”. Those “protections” applied to collectively bargained wages and benefits and I doubt there’s much of a political appetite to unnecessarily arouse the unions to resolve the MBTA issues.

Those of us living in Charlestown or working nearby know that Chelsea has come a long way over the past 25 years or so thanks to many factors. Chelsea had deteriorated economically and socially and by 1991 had suffered fiscal collapse. In response, the Commonwealth enacted special legislation to place Chelsea into receivership and Governor Bill Weld appointed well known businessman Jim Carlin as Receiver.

Students of history may recall Carlin was Secretary of Commerce then Transportation under the late Governor Edward King. I had the pleasure of working for Jim as Director of Business Development at his company Carlin Insurance of Natick back in 1994. Jim is a tough, no nonsense businessman with great political instincts and I learned a great deal from working with him. Following a layoff from a construction trade association Jim hired me providing the opportunity to get my career back on track at a critical time in my personal life. Jim’s mantra was “don’t confuse efforts with results” among the many lessons I’ve learned and tried to adhere to during my career.

Under Carlin’s bold leadership and the extraordinary powers afforded under full receivership Chelsea including the ability to control all aspects of city government the city began its road to recovery. Once recovery was well underway and Chelsea was in better shape Carlin left to become Chairman of the Board of Higher Education and was replaced by Lewis “Harry” Spence former Boston Housing Authority receiver.

Spence was Receiver during the “integration” of the Bunker Hill housing projects where I first met him while serving under Mayor Ray Flynn back in 1984.

By 1995, the state returned City Hall to the folks over in Chelsea, a new government had been born and a new city charter created. The charter eliminated the position of mayor, and converted management of the city from a strong mayor (i.e. Boston) to a council- manager system where a city manager is selected by the City Council.

The first manager under the new system was Guy Santagate and by 2000 Jay Ash, former Aide to Representative Richie Voke had taken the reins. As many know Ash was a driving force in Representative Voke’s office and had a tremendous influence on policy matters and enhancing the quality of life in the Chelsea-Charlestown district.

Under the dedication and leadership of Ash and the City Council dramatic changes have been made and now Chelsea has improved significantly. Fortunately for the Commonwealth Governor Charlie Baker made a brilliant decision by appointing Jay as his Secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

Regardless of which style of receivership is selected (if at all) I am optimistic that Governor Baker will make the correct decisions to help move the MBTA forward at this critical time with visions of the Olympics perhaps coming to the Boston area.

Governor Charlie Baker’s Commission on the MBTA appointed during this year’s disastrous winter “T meltdown” just released its report and action plan after a little more than six weeks of analysis. A cursory reading of the MBTA Panel’s far reaching findings reveals a number of worrisome issues to be addressed. I think the Panel has done a tremendous job in bringing to light many of the issues vexing the T. During my career I’ve had the pleasure of working with two of the Panel members Jane Garvey and Joe Sullivan and can attest to their professionalism, commitment and breadth of knowledge concerning transportation and public policy matters.

The Panel’s recommendations may be found here. http://www.mass.gov/governor/docs/news/mbta-panel-report-04-08-2015.pdf

The report mentions 9 key findings, many of which I can personally identify with having spent seven years in Government & Community Affairs for the T with proximity to leadership. Several of the most bothersome to me include the lack of accountability and lack of customer focus. Although at first blush I can identify most directly with # 4,6, 7, 8 and 9.

When I started my tenure at the T as Community Affairs Director my four person department was structurally situated within the Planning Department. At the time that department was led by individuals with little interest in customer relations whatsoever and they simply tolerated me. As planners they were primarily concerned with planning rather than being bogged down with community relations. I initiated several programs to increase customer-community relations but often faced internal opposition to my ideas. I left the T before implementing many of the goals I had set for the department and agency.

MBTA Panel’s 9 Key findings;

1.UNSUSTAINABLE OPERATING BUDGET

2. CHRONIC CAPITAL UNDERINVESTMENT

3.BOTTLENECKED PROJECT DELIVERY

4. INEFFECTIVE WORKPLACE PRACTICES

5. SHORTSIGHTED EXPANSION PROGRAM

6. ORGANIZATIONAL INSTABILITY

7. LACK OF CUSTOMER FOCUS

8. FLAWED CONTRACTING PROCESSES

9. LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY

As many of you know from 1995 to late 2002 I worked for the MBTA (T) in its Government and or Community Affairs Department and here are a few memories I decided to jot down. The year prior to moving over to the MBTA I had been trying my hand at business development and insurance sales at Carlin Insurance of Natick. The firm’s owner Jim Carlin had once served as Transportation Secretary under the late Governor Ed King and later as Chelsea Receiver.

When I started at the T in 95 it was in the midst of cost cutting measures to the tune of 90M if I remember correctly. I was given a staff of three housed within the Planning Department since Community Relations was the ugly stepchild of the T and subservient to the focus on planning. In fairness, I should mention that there was a Marketing/customer service department that handled generic T issues but not community specific matters. I’m not saying that there was never a Community Affairs department before I arrived only that T officials were focused on privatizing, cutting and planning for future service needs and not so much on community relations.

At the time I joined the T there was a great deal of animosity towards anyone starting in a managerial role since so many other positions were being cut at the same time. There was also a tremendous push for the privatization of T services much to the chagrin of unions, long time employees and others opposed to such measures. Fortunately my role had nothing to do with that since I was brought in to try to enhance the image of the T within the “Community”. However, some T staffers were less than friendly towards me until I won them over. I also know that some were never won over; such is life in the often hurly burly world of the government sector.

Each week various Departments including the General Manager’s Office, Government Relations, Marketing, , Public Affairs, Planning and I (the new Community Relations guy) would get together to discuss ongoing public relations issues, crises, ribbon cuttings etc. Those involved would discuss issues with an eye towards promoting the good news and trying to solve the not so good news. While the T officials would gather to discuss these issues we always did so knowing that the Transportation Secretary at the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction (EOTC) and or the Governor’s Office would be anxiously awaiting the resolution to such issues and offering their input behind the scenes. Regardless of the strength and personality of the MBTA General Manager and his or her desire for independence it was clear that EOTC and or the Governor’s Office (and at any time outside influencers) were quite often calling the shots. At least on the larger, more politically sensitive issues.

While I was brought in to expand the Community Relations function there was animosity internally towards my actually implementing any new initiatives since the move to privatize was on everyone’s radar. T officials had various representatives going out and about to discuss privatization but were concerned that if there were too many of us out there publicly we would raise the ire of unions or say something contrary to policy about privatization and attract the media’s interest. Then we did not have the benefit or not of social media and relied upon traditional legacy media and relationships with media representatives.

The challenge for me was to try to raise the Community Affairs profile without spending a lot of money, attracting anti privatization forces, garnering negative media, arousing internal opposition to community affairs or causing too dramatic a change to the status quo. A daunting task at times but one which I was familiar with having served in the Mayor’s Office and later as the Community Liaison for the Central Artery North Area Project in Charlestown the $300M precursor and stand alone project to the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project.

As Community Liaison during the Central Artery North project many of my battles to protect the interests of the Charlestown community (while similarly appeasing commuters who traveled through the project area from the North and South Shore) were internal ones. Battles with department engineers and contractors bent on doing the job, making a profit and running the show without interference from someone trying to slow them down. I was viewed as the individual within the department whose interest in preserving the interests of the community and the commuting public was at odds with those trying to construct the project. So I did have some experience in dealing with internal dissension and I dare say I enjoyed the cat and mouse games where I won many of them and lost fewer. Often I had to be very creative in enlisting support externally to assist me in my internal battles in order to ensure a positive community and public relations experience. More on that at a later date perhaps.

Within a few days of starting at the MBTA, I had analyzed the current community relations program and decided what I needed to do to enhance it both internally and externally without stepping on the toes of my peers in similar departments such as public affairs, marketing or government affairs. I presented my ideas to the General Manager’s staff and they seemed impressed yet still had concerns about my implementing them and dealing with the public during the privatization drive.

Again, these concerns centered around spending money, garnering negative press, impacting privatization efforts, pissing off EOTC, the Governor’s Office, legislators and raising expectations with the public. After one meeting a Public Affairs staff person walked into my office and lambasted me (or attempted to) accusing me of coming in and trying to curry favor with leadership. I stood up and told him to shut the F%$# up and that he was not my boss and had no call to talk to me in that manner and to get out of my office. Needless to say he got up and left. A week or so later he called me one night at home and apologized indicating that he and his boss were angry because the General Manager liked my idea. I accepted his apology and we became friends (I remained guarded) and before I left the T realized what prompted his initial outburst. Each and every General Manager and Administration brings in new people and those who have been there awhile get pushed aside, marginalized and their opinions ignored. As long as you go with the flow and never rear your ugly head and ask to do more you can survive.

I sold the GM’s office and others with my idea of holding community outreach meetings under the name “Talking with the T” that would bring my staff and me to the public inexpensively and innocently. I modeled Talking with the T after the office hours concept that most legislators use in their district to “bring the State House” to their constituents. Again, social media was not in vogue at this time so the public was harder to reach and communicate with. My concept was to schedule a public event somewhat like a coffee hour within various cities and towns in the 78 cities and towns then served by the T. Prior to each event I would identify a site such as a library, town hall, senior center, university or anyplace where the rental fee was cheap as in FREE.

T officials were mixed in whether they wanted me to go out into the public domain while privatizing was in play since they feared I would be a lightning rod for union representatives and T haters (there are a few). However, I convinced them that my concept was not really a public forum but instead an office hours, one on one format. I told them that my plan was one that would allow constituents to sit one on one with my staff and me over coffee (I paid for coffee and snacks) and discuss their concerns out of earshot. I said the T detractors would be hard pressed to make a spectacle of T staff sitting down one on one with seniors, young moms and others hearing their concerns and I was correct.

Since the Talking with the T concept had the blessing of the GM and others I would often be able to hear a constituent’s concern during a meeting and make a call to T staff in various departments (Bus Ops, Rail, commuter rail, police, maintenance etc), Generally we could respond to a constituents concern with one call or if the matter required more action I could at least get the ball rolling. Regardless, we were letting the public know that the MBTA cared, was accessible and despite privatization or other matters we were there to help. I should add hear that there are many T staffers working in the trenches every day to do their best to make the system run and they are very dedicated. I would not have been able to accomplish what I tried to do and succeeded if not for the contacts I developed within each department.

Then I would contact legislators, city and town officials, Senate and Congressional staff and any other officials within the district so as to engage their participation and support so as not to blindside them. When one holds an event or takes an action within a legislator’s hood he or she must make sure at all costs to include them or at least apprise them of your involvement in their community. Some officials chose to participate others kept their distance but all knew they had that option. I worked with MBTA Marketing to create flyers, displays and promotional materials then created press releases subject to approval from the GM, Public Affairs, and EOTC. While informing the media would help us to spread the word about our Talking with the T meetings I still had to get the word out in other ways so used the phone and fax to inform.

Since Boston was the city most impacted by the MBTA and the home of the State House I wanted to make sure that city residents and businesses knew about our meetings. I was particularly sensitive to making sure those in often maligned and forgotten areas such as housing projects were included since I had been raised in Bunker Hill, Charlestown.  So, I arranged a meeting with Mayor Menino’s Neighborhood Services staff and sat down with them to discuss Talking with the T and to enlist their support. I knew from having worked for Mayor Flynn that the Mayor’s Office had an extensive mailing list of residents they kept in touch with via mailings The Mayor’s Office willingly agreed to help me spread the word by piggybacking on their mailing list and including our MBTA meeting flyers which assured the public we were working together and saved the T a lot of money in mailing costs. Needless to say my higher ups at the T were thrilled.

The Talking with the T concept went on for some time then took a back seat to the whims of the Planning Director (my boss) and the Service Planning process where each year the T solicits public opinion regarding service and ways it can be improved, streamlined etc and my staff and I ended up developing an enhanced plan for that process. A few years later Community Relations was removed from the Planning Department which never really embraced it and we were folded into the Government Affairs function much to my satisfaction. I went on to work with elected officials while simultaneously dealing with community relations matters and I like to think my efforts in that department were positive.

While I worked with elected officials from across the state I have to say that some of my best memories involved working with Mayor Menino’s dedicated staff and then State Rep and now Mayor Marty Walsh. Mayor Walsh and his staff were constantly calling to try to resolve community issues and or to bring the T to their community. I used to attend numerous meetings in Dorchester and I would like to think that Mayor Walsh would give me positive marks for my commitment to the public and his constituents. This walk down memory lane was sparked this morning this past winter when I started thinking about the MBTA and all of its troubles related to our record breaking snowfall.

T supporters and detractors, the media, elected officials indeed almost everyone has an opinion on the agency and its performance. Without getting too involved in T history, good or bad management, politics, finances and the like one point I would simply like to make is as follows. In the 1960s the old MTA became the MBTA and the service district was expanded from 14 to 78 cities and towns. When I started working at the MBTA it served 78 cities and towns and by 1999 that service district was expanded to 175 cities and towns or so. Most cities and towns added then were already served by or adjacent to commuter rail lines. It should be noted however that the MBTA did not assume responsibility for local service in those communities adjacent to or served by commuter rail.

Before 2000 the MBTA was reimbursed by the state for all costs above revenue collected (net cost of service). Beginning in mid 2000 the T was granted a dedicated revenue stream consisting of amounts assessed on served cities and towns, along with a dedicated portion of the state sales tax. So as of that point the MBTA then had to live within this “forward funding” budget. Factor in the fact that the MBTA became increasingly more responsible for transporting people to get them out of their cars in concert with construction of the Big Dig and it seems to me that the MBTA was perhaps on a collision course to where it is now.

Without knowing all the details of what has been happening within the T since my departure I have little idea of what has or has not been occurring at the agency? However, it seems to me that expanding from a service district of 78 to 175 cities and towns may have been just too much for the MBTA to handle. Particularly since the T has had to balance among other things enhanced service needs, modifications to accommodate the disabled and other constituencies, contractual demands etc while maintaining its aging stock and numerous other niggling issues. I think the snowstorms of 2015 may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The role of social media and ramping up public comment and involvement likely has played a role in zeroing in on T “inadequacies” but that is a story for another day. I look forward to the MBTA Panel’s recommendations being discussed, vetted and perhaps some implemented.

Can you imagine what the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention who gathered to sign off on our U.S. Constitution might have said, written, agreed upon if the public-indeed people across the world had been involved? Back then 55 men signed off on the Constitution but today routine and often irrelevant (to me) issues can reach 55 million individuals or more instantly. Men and women presumably too busy with trying to make a living and live their lives to be concerned about such issues yet they take time out of their busy lives each and every day to comment. Why?

Who knows? Do we really need to be involved in every issue, crisis, decision, event etc, that happens in every corner of the world regardless of how relevant or do we have other things that we should be more concerned about?

In the past newsworthy events such as natural disasters, elections, mass killings, whatever, presumably took forever to travel from the East to the West Coast, from North America to Asia, from the largest city in the world to a native hut somewhere on a remote island. So back then ignorance was bliss, and there were far less implications and reactions good, bad or indifferent. Even back say 30-40-50 or so years ago news reports about early space travel, election results, casualties in Viet Nam, and natural disasters a world away were transmitted to us if at all through grainy B & W TVs, daily newspapers or transistor radios.

Communications tools and technology including computers, smart phones, the internet and social media among others have brought us closer together and helped us to stay in touch and make positive contributions to society. For instance we can now stay in touch with long lost family and friends even though we may never see them in person preferring instead to communicate from our homes, offices or even bathrooms.

Several years ago the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge found people from around the world dousing themselves with ice and challenging one another to do the same to raise millions to help battle the devastating ALS disease and increase awareness about it. In another instance a woman in desperate need of a bone marrow match for a family member used social media to find one presumably saving her spouse from death. There are stories every day about how our ability to communicate instantly and around the globe are helping to make the world a better place.

Along with the good that technology has brought I believe we are inadvertently (and I daresay at times intentionally) stressing one another out, angrily taunting and insulting one another from afar because the net and social media have enabled us to do so seemingly without retribution. If someone posts a story or picture about anything good or bad, there is going to be a guaranteed response regardless and sometimes it is nasty, biased or include language and imagery that should never be shared.

The 2016 presidential campaign was one of the most divisive elections I can recall with many friends and family members actually parting ways over the candidates. It got to the point where I personally simply couldn’t deal with the craziness and had to distance myself from the campaign and some individuals. I don’t think Donald Trump expected to win and I believe he will leave one way or another before 2020. Donald only ran as a Republican because it offered his best shot at winning and now the party is in chaos. Imagine what would have happened if he had run as a Democrat? I’m sure Clinton would have won but the Dems would have gone through the same ordeal the GOP did to get to the primary. Dems should thank their lucky stars for that decision on Trump’s part.

Now that Trump is Prez some people are spending all their waking hours attacking him in an effort to drive him out of office. Of course Trump is his own worst enemy and has brought much of the negative attention on himself. In the end I believe we will have a party comprised of mainly Trump supporters, tea partiers and others disenchanted by the Dems and GOP. I think Trump’s main contribution and perhaps intent will be a strengthening of a third party alternative to the Dems and GOP

Thanks to the growing influence and use of social media and the obsession and ease of communication everyone- The Prez, Congressmen, the media, inmates, illegal immigrants, kids, housewives, students, terrorists, whack jobs, indeed everyone and anyone may potentially be openly involved in putting their two cents worth in on ANYTHING, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME. Obviously there are very positive ramifications from such involvement and activism.

However, this does not take into consideration the fact that terrorists, serial killers, animal and child abusers, ISIS whack jobs, crazed world leaders and others can establish facebook and twitter accounts. These individuals can then gain privileged information about trade secrets, security measures, develop bombs and easily assimilate with others thanks to information available and earn their 15 minutes of fame or infamy.

They can push our buttons and terrorize us mentally even though their physical actions may only involve a few and occur thousands of miles away from us. We are being terrorized emotionally and psychologically daily by social media without terrorists having to blow up one mall or pilot a plane into a building. AND WE ARE ALL HELPING THEM unintentionally of course TO GLAMORIZE THEIR ACTIONS AND PERPETUATE THEIR MADNESS.

We have become a world of individuals who are too dependent and obsessed with information that may or may not have any bearing on our day to day lives and while it may be useful, informative and life enhancing it is making us crazy. We have grown so accustomed to our communications tools and ability to communicate that there is no going back and no shutting off or out.

While we here in the US fiercely protect our right to free speech there are sometimes simply too many individuals freely speaking at any given time, about every single issue, 24/7. The right to free speech is an important one but does that give an individual the right to use those words to hurt, inflame or spew hatred? Years ago if you wanted to discuss an issue or voice your opinion you were often relegated to discussing it with friends, attending a rally, writing a letter to the editor and hoping it might get published or calling into radio talk show hosts and venting.

Today everyone has an opinion, many have become experts and braggarts and know it-alls, and some seemingly spend all their time baiting and instigating friends and strangers alike to get a rise out of them. Does anyone work anymore or give their employer a full day’s work? Do people interact with one another anymore without going to their phone every second to post a picture, text or email instead of enjoying one another’s company? Should everyone out there have an opinion and have the right to comment about everything someone says? Does anyone have a life beyond social media anymore or mind their own business?

We have become a world of individuals who are too dependent and obsessed with information that may or may not have any bearing on our day to day lives and while it may be useful, informative and life enhancing it is making us crazy.

Flanagan's Forum

I wrote the article below several years ago when the debt ceiling debate was all the rage in Washington. D. C. Then I got to thinking about technology-the net, smart phones, social media etc so recently added a bit of information at the end beyond the issue of the debt ceiling. At a later date I may revisit this issue and focus less on the debt ceiling and expand but view this as a starting point. I truly believe we are suffering from information overload and it is troubling to me on many levels.

____________________________

Pundits recently offered varying opinions about whom they thought benefited from the debt ceiling debate and debacle and came up with diverse responses including the Democrats, Republicans-Tea Partiers, Lobbyists, Wall Street fat cats, and even gasp, the people.

I’m not quite certain yet exactly who won the debate but I think social media, transparency and public…

View original post 1,151 more words

Recently I was shopping at South Shore Plaza and decided to visit the restroom to take a peek in the mirror and check out how I looked. Hey, even mature guys like me must look presentable when cruising the mall. Of course, none of the young ladies that I’m hoping to impress are interested in checking out the guys with graying temples, shapeless butts and sagging jowls anyway.

As I was leaving the restroom an older gentleman who was standing nearby, grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, smiled and asked how I was doing.

Now believe me, the last thing I want to do when I’m in a mall restroom is converse with a stranger, particularly when he’s smiling and flashing his pearly whites. Call me old fashioned but there are certain rules that must be adhered to while using a public restroom and smiling and chatting are gestures almost universally frowned upon. In fairness to my would be conversationalist, it was a warm smile and certainly not threatening in any manner.

The man smiled and said “think hard” and so I did as he suggested. My mind raced as I searched for the identity of this stranger because the more I scrutinized the man’s face the more familiar he looked. Since I had spent most of my life in Charlestown, and had relatively few acquaintances in the vicinity of the Plaza I assumed the man was from my old neighborhood.

However, earlier in my career I had worked as a jail guard and often encountered former prisoners on the street. Consequently, I always exercise extreme caution when “bumping” into strangers who recognize me. Not knowing what to say and trying to buy time, I blurted out “Charlestown” and the stranger smiled saying “that’s right, Charlestown, its Mr. Avery”.

No sooner had the words left the man’s mouth then my thoughts drifted back over thirty years earlier to Charlestown High and the life altering advice that our guidance counselor, Mr. Avery had offered during a personally challenging time. Seventeen years old, hopelessly in lust with a young lady from one of my classrooms and wondering where life would take me following graduation.

Sure I had signed up for the draft but I didn’t really want to go to Vietnam because several of my neighbors had shipped out and returned home in body bags to grieving friends and family members. Hell, I had barely left the confines of the Bunker Hill housing projects and rarely ventured beyond Charlestown never mind fight in a war light years away from home.

No one in my family had ever attended college or even contemplated doing so leading me to believe that I was destined to follow their lead. Given my personal circumstances there was no reason for me to even remotely consider the possibility of furthering my education. Then my friends and I were having way too much fun hanging on “Dope Corner”, drinking in the project hallways and running away from the cops whenever the neighbors “ratted” us out.

I figured I could always find a decent job and make a respectable living if push came to shove. I just wasn’t in any great rush to be shoved.

I remembered how Mr. Avery and I had discussed personal issues and talked about my going to college and leaving welfare and the projects behind. Years later, my mother would often remind me of how proud she was that I had graduated from college, earned a Master’s and became the first member of her family to obtain a driver’s license and own a home.

A guidance counselor’s charge is to help students to raise their self esteem, gravitate toward their goals and discuss and by extension reduce unpleasant feelings associated with their problems. Guidance counselors, or at least the good ones are supposed to help us labor through those awkward teenage years.

Guidance counselors play an integral role in the success of the students and in their interactions with teachers, classmates and parents as they wend their way through seemingly endless school years en route to adulthood. Mr. Avery was an incredibly concerned and compassionate counselor and all the kids had great respect and admiration for him.

Mr. Avery and I left the restroom and he introduced me to his wife whom he met when they were in the seventh grade. We talked about my family and job and discussed the whereabouts of several of my former classmates including those long deceased or serving lengthy prison sentences.

I told Mrs. Avery how her husband had influenced my life greatly and how much I appreciated his help and guidance. Mr. Avery and I shook hands and parted company knowing that we might never meet again. I thanked my friend for remembering me so many years later and for breaking the rules about smiling in the men’s room and for taking the time to stop and talk with me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Avery couldn’t save all of us but that never stopped him from trying. I know that my classmates echo my sentiments and appreciation for his dedication to an often thankless job and for guiding us when we needed help the most