Monthly Archives: December 2010

Parole in police officer’s murder not so easy

Officer Maguire

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems that the media and elected officials alike have been somewhat guarded in criticizing the state Parole Board for releasing Dominic Cinelli, a violent career criminal who murdered Woburn police officer John Maguire last week.

Yes, everyone is saying what you would expect. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have both published editorials saying the board erred in releasing Cinelli. Yes, the board made a huge mistake in not notifying the Middlesex County district attorney’s office before the 2008 hearing at which Cinelli’s parole was approved. And Cinelli, whom a dying Maguire shot to death in the course of an attempted robbery at Kohl’s, seems to have been an unusually poor risk.

Here is another wrinkle. According to a report by Gordon Vincent of Woburn’s Daily Times Chronicle, Cinelli would not have been eligible for parole until 2023 were it not for a decision by the state Appeals Court that overturned a ruling made by the Parole Board regarding the start date of Cinelli’s sentence.

Yet today’s Globe story by Jonathan Saltzman includes some facts worth pondering:

  • The Parole Board apparently did not think releasing Cinelli was a close call, as it voted 6-0 in favor. Of those six (three appointed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and three by Republican governors), two were retired police officers and one worked in the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department. In other words, it doesn’t sound like the board can be caricatured as a bunch of soft-on-crime types.
  • About 6,000 inmates are granted parole every year, which suggests that the county and state prison systems could be thrown into chaos if parole standards were tightened significantly.
  • Since 2005, according to Saltzman’s reporting, the board has granted parole to about two-thirds of those applying, and to somewhere between 27 percent and 40 percent of the lifers seeking parole, depending on the year.
  • Lifers and older inmates, Saltzman reports, tend to pose the lowest risk of recidivism. Cinelli was 57 when he shot Officer Maguire.

The death of Jack Maguire, a 60-year-old policeman on the verge of retirement, is a terrible tragedy. Back in the 1980s, I covered Woburn for the Daily Times Chronicle, and though I did not know Maguire, I knew of him. I did know the future police chief, Philip Mahoney, an impressive, compassionate policeman who has served as an outstanding spokesman for his city’s grief this week.

It may well turn out that the Parole Board made a mistake in releasing Cinelli. We already know that it made a mistake by not giving the district attorney a chance to testify. But the issue is not as simple as locking up people like Cinelli and throwing away the key.

Based on the Globe’s reporting, it appears that inmates whose past crimes were as serious as Cinelli’s are released regularly, and that society benefits. The investigation that’s now under way is the right way to go, and the media should give it a chance to play out — as they seem to be doing so far. The situation calls for intelligent analysis, not a witch hunt.

Howie Carr’s big, fat Christmas coming-out

Media Nation has been on hiatus, so I missed Howie Carr’s encounter with liposuction, which took up nearly all of the Boston Herald’s front page this past Sunday. Ralph Ranalli has all the details. The late Jack Cole would have known exactly what to call this: “alleged news.” Pathetic.

Net neutrality and the politics of pizza

Imagine living in a world in which Domino’s could pay your phone company to make it impossible for you to call other pizza joints. That can’t happen because, legally, phone services are considered “common carriers,” which must accept all traffic in a non-discriminatory manner. Which is what the battle over net neutrality is all about.

This week the FCC’s three Democrats backed a too-weak proposal to ensure net neutrality that the Republicans vowed to oppose anyway. I don’t pretend to understand all the technical arcana, but, according to news reports like this one, net neutrality will be more or less assured on wired broadband networks such as cable and FIOS, while the market will have its way on wireless networks.

Which network do you suppose will be more important in 10 years — or two, for that matter? Wired or wireless?

Take a look at this post on Engadget, which obtained an actual proposal for wireless broadband providers to charge extra for access to Facebook, Skype and YouTube. It’s a variation on a theme that Sen. Al Franken sounded in a must-read essay. Franken points out that, without net neutrality, Verizon could block Google Maps and charge you extra to use its own inferior mapping service. Franken writes:

Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online. The Internet as we know it would cease to exist. That’s why net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time.

Back when the debate was over media concentration, old-school conservative organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Christian Coalition made common cause with liberal groups to stop the FCC from making a bad situation worse. Unfortunately, the newly ascendant Tea Party right is so hostile to government activism that it opposes efforts to ensure net neutrality.

This week’s action by the FCC was not definitive. Net neutrality is an issue that we’ll be revisiting again and again in the years ahead. But given President Obama’s stated support for neutrality, this may be as good as it gets. And it’s not very good.

To learn more, and to take action, visit Free Press.

Ross Douthat and the politics of self-pity

The Passion of the Douthat

Those of us who are non-Christians would like to apologize to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat for our continued existence.

In a piece remarkable for its self-pity, Douthat declares, “Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.” Among other things, Douthat declares that Christians feel “embattled” by “Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism.”

But according to a survey by Trinity College, about 76 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, which surely makes them our largest oppressed minority group, both proportionately and by sheer numbers.

Douthat is slick enough to poke fun at bozos on the right who rail about the “war” against Christmas. Yet he’s essentially engaging in the same tactic. Since Barry Goldwater, if not before, the conservative movement has been fueled in large measure by whipping up a sense of resentment. The laughable idea that it’s somehow difficult to be a Christian in this country has become a big part of that.

When Douthat was hired to replace William Kristol on the Times op-ed page, he was supposed to represent something new, different and better: a younger, more analytical thinker who might not persuade liberals but who would at least be worth reading for the strength of his arguments.

Instead, he’s proved to be a hack who offers neither entertainment nor insight.

Michelangelo’s “Martyrdom” via Wikimedia Commons. Click here or on image for a larger view.

An alternative metaphor for reading the news

Times Skimmer. Click on image to see for yourself.

I don’t remember when Times Skimmer was first unveiled by the New York Times, but I do remember being unimpressed. Recently, though, I took another look, and it struck me as new and improved. It’s a different way of experiencing the newspaper, and I think it’s got some real promise.

As with Times Reader, a subscription-only e-reader product, the free (for now) Times Skimmer is laid out in horizontal pages that you can flip through quite efficiently. Skimmer, which compiles the Times’ RSS feeds, is more up-to-date than Reader (though the latter does have a “Latest News” section) and gives you a more-complete snippet of each story, making it unnecessary to page through every story to see what the sometimes-cryptic headlines are all about.

Reader’s advantages over Skimmer are three-fold: (1) you can download the entire paper and take it with you, so you don’t have to be connected to the Internet in order to read it; (2) Reader is typographically more pleasing, as Skimmer simply taps in to NYTimes.com when you click on a story; and (3) with Reader you’ve got that day’s Times as opposed to a collection of RSS feeds — a distinction that matters to some of us elderly news junkies.

So what do you get from Skimmer? A different way of looking at NYTimes.com that rationalizes the overstuffed, jumbled website. I’ve found several stories using Skimmer that I would have missed if I’d been reading the website or Reader. Among them: this excellent feature from the Lens blog on the last photographs taken by Times photographer Joao Silva, gravely injured in Afghanistan.

One annoying omission from Skimmer is the Times’ book news, including the all-important Sunday Book Review. There are RSS feeds both for books in general and the Book Review in particular, so it wouldn’t be hard to add — which makes me think the omission was deliberate. Based on my incomplete reading, it seems that some book news pops up in the arts feed, but only a few highlights. Unfortunately, there’s no way for us mere users to add feeds to Skimmer.

Skimmer and Reader are the inspiration behind the Times’ Chrome app, which became available last week. As with Reader, you can download it and take it with you; as with Skimmer, it’s a compilation of RSS feeds. I’ve played with it a bit, and though it’s promising, it’s not quite ready for prime time.

Reader, Skimmer and the Chrome app, with their simple, horizontal layouts, all seem to have been devised with tablet computers in mind, although Reader won’t run on an iPad and never will unless the Times moves away from its reliance on Adobe Flash. (There’s also a separate Times app for the iPad, which I have not had a chance to test-drive.)

As such, they represent an interesting alternative to the website metaphor we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past 15 years.

The Globe goes deep on “The Other Welfare”

In case you haven’t seen it, the Boston Globe is publishing a three-part series on poor families that medicate their kids — sometimes for flimsy reasons — so that they can be classified as disabled and thus qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

The reporting, by Patricia Wen, is first-rate. And to point out the obvious, the series, titled “The Other Welfare,” is the sort of accountability journalism that is rarely done by any news organizations other than major newspapers.

What I especially like about the series is that, rather than blaming the families, Wen takes pains to point out the difficult circumstances under which they live. As one single mother, Geneva Fielding, puts it, referring to the medication her 10-year-old son is taking for impulsiveness:

Sometimes I don’t know why we get a check for this. But if someone says you have ADHD and you’re depressed and you can get a check, they’re going to try to get a check. The poor people will take that every time. It’s all about surviving.

A chilling example of unintended consequences.