Codfish's blog

A Private Matter: Getting The Rules Straight

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

There is a memorable scene in the classic movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where Butch (Paul Newman) takes on a menacing thug in the Hole In The Wall Gang. Outgunned in muscle and in stealth, Newman declares to the outlaw fixing to destroy him, “First, we gotta get the rules straight!”

“Rules, what rules?” the distracted palooka replies.

And with that, Newman kicks his combatant in the groin, knocking him to the ground.

The scene works well in the movies, or to some extent if you’re George Bush and the gunfighter is Al Qaeda, but it loses its red, white and blue luster if Americans are the ones being kicked in the privates over government-sanctioned eavesdropping and the examination of banking records where there is no clear oversight, no defined rules of engagement to protect the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” 

Yet again the Bush Administration is thumbing executive privilege at the Founding Fathers with the disclosure last week in The New York Times and other news organizations of a secret program, coordinated through the Central Intelligence Agency and the Treasury Department, that has examined “tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands” of private banking records in a post 9/11 effort to document and cut off the cash flow of terrorists.

No one would argue that covert surveillance of terrorists is critical to our survival, particularly in light of a dire warning last week from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of the growing threat of “hometown” terrorist cells with no direct links to Al Qaeda, but Americans have a right to know at least the broad parameters of a private data dump. On cue, trigger-happy Vice President Dick Cheney castigated the press Friday for vetting “vital national security programs.” Without this disclosure, the chances of any oversight of the exchange of information with the Brussels banking consortium—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT)—were about a slim as a quote from Ben Franklin on the issue.

“Oversight is the difference between something being reasonable and something being abused,” Lauren Weinstein, the head of the California-based Privacy Forum, told the Times.

The Bush Administration obviously doesn’t see it this way. Proving he’s gulping the Kool-Aid, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow calls criticism of the SWIFT program “entirely abstract in nature.”

An impotent Congress, which has been glancing sideways on the matter, clearly needs to get its head straight over clandestine oversight. If there are to be no rules on a wide range of information gathering tactics involving privacy rights, from politics to our fight against terrorism, the potential is ripe for White House abuse, now and with future administrations, Republican and Democrat. Rules are essential. Without them, Nixon wouldn’t have needed a plumber.

We gotta get the rules straight!

Signs Of Summer On The Cape: Sweating It Out and Squeezing the Lyme

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Oh, New England! We wait eight months for the good weather, then spring bites. Literally. I felt the symptoms coming on a week ago Saturday like an Acela train blowing through a stop: nausea, chills, fever (pushing 104), fatigue, joint pain, stiff neck, muscle aches and a tingling down my left arm. I don’t remember ever being that sick; I thought I had the flu.

I woke up the following day in worse shape. I could hardly walk, had trouble remembering things, and had the off-balance reactions of someone trying to swat a Wakefield knuckleball on a day when it moves. That night I sweat through a shirt like I had been at the gym for six hours. By Monday, I was thumbing through a directory of priests, and picking the photo to lay on top of the casket—typically Irish, as was my reluctance to see a doctor, opting instead to grind it out. On Tuesday, I noticed a large red circle, the size of a Christmas ornament, on the left side of my chest. In the center, there appeared to be a “bull’s eye” bite mark the size of a quarter.

Getting in to see a doctor these days is akin to securing an invitation to the White House, so I took myself to Cape Cod Hospital emergency room where they made me wait mostly, then poked me, siphoned what seemed like about ten gallons of blood, and then delivered the preliminary diagnosis: acute Lyme Disease. The jury is still out with the final verdict (the smoking gun had fallen off). Some of the test results are due back this week.

Hospitals and doctors offices often remind me of customer service stations in large department stores: there is no one here who can answer your questions. But a quick check of Internet websites on Lyme Disease was revealing. In some parts of New England, Lyme Disease can be as common as a bad sunburn, only most victims—both children and adults—don’t know they have it, disregarding the warning signs until more serious indicators encroach. If untreated, the experts say, Lyme Disease, first diagnosed in Lyme, Ct., can result in variants of rheumatoid arthritis, irregular heartbeat, thinning patches of skin, severe headaches, hepatitis, and neurological problems like meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain) and temporary paralysis on the side the face (Bell’s palsy). Even more alarming is the fact that a negative blood test can give false results.

Always best to check the early symptoms with a doctor; intervention can prevent years of debilitating pain in a state that ranks fourth in Lyme Disease cases. But be prepared; the cure—Doxycycline—can take a bite out of you, too, this time of year, making the skin hypersensitive. I’ve been ordered to stay out of the sun for a month! Spring bites in New England. So stay in close touch with yourself.

Affordable Housing Crisis: Learn From Rhode Island?s Mistakes, A Study In How To Do It Wrong!

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

The late Tip O’Neill, the commanding Cambridge Democrat, a summer resident of Harwich, and legendary Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, once declared that all politics is local. The maxim has become a staple, to the point of a cliché, in political discourse today, but never is this more at play than over the thorny issue of affordable housing. Even in a slow spring real estate market on Cape Cod and in Boston’s suburbs, as temperatures push into the 70s and 80s, the cost of housing is chilling—giving the term “affordable housing,” once a reference to the plight of the lower class, entirely new meaning.

There was a time not too long ago when apprentice teachers, nurses and even newspaper scribes, could afford a first home. Not today. Now you must be a brain surgeon, with the pay of one and the gray matter to maneuver through a risky real estate market that can swallow one whole, if overextended. There is no relief in slight. From Brewster to Boston, cities and towns have been reticent to get smart when it comes to providing “affordable housing,” or housing at discounted prices to meet the critical needs of both middle and lower income families. Overstated concerns about density, traffic and community character have closed the doors throughout Massachusetts to innovative housing projects—forcing many prospective homeowners to flee with their inspirations and talents to places like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

The goal throughout New England is a standard 10 percent “affordable housing” stock, an objective with all the clout of parents lecturing their high school seniors not to drink on weekends. A look south to Rhode Island painfully underscores what is wrong with our approach to affordable housing.

In a political statue of liberty play to New England corporations (give me your young, your hungry and your multi-talented, and I will give them jobs), Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri has set an administration objective of creating 20,000 jobs under his watch. It’s a great six o’clock sound bite, but with no execution to it. Simply put, there is no housing that is affordable in Rhode Island to shelter these new hires, causing some in the state to wonder in jest if the governor expects these new recruits to live under a bridge like trolls. At present, individuals or families earning $50,000-to-$100,000 a year either cannot qualify for financing or are having much difficulty getting a mortgage. The problem is exacerbated in communities like Smithfield, Exeter and South Kingston, which offer new jobs but no realistic housing for them. If this issue is not addressed soon, the economy of the Ocean State will begin to implode, curbing a steady flow of good-paying jobs into Rhode Island communities from companies looking to expand like Fidelity, Bank of America and Bristol-Meyers Squibb.

With empathy for Gov. Carcieri, State Sen. John C. Revens, D-Warwick, who has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, notes, “The problem is simple, the solution is complex. Revens said there is no across-the-board constituency for “affordable housing” in Rhode Island—both in the General Assembly and at the local level—because communities don’t want such projects in their back yards. “So these communities legislate against them locally with zoning restrictions and mortoriums on public water and sewer connections. It’s all done in the name of preserving community character, but actually it’s growth control under the guise of aesthetics. And no politician in state leadership is willing to take up the issue head on.”

Present company included. Without a change in attitudes, Revens acknowledged, it’s a zero sum political game.

Few in Rhode Island would disagree that providing affordable housing is a vital issue, but no one from Carcieri, the legislature and on down wants to juggle this hot political spud. What is sorely needed, said Revens, are new land use regulations to encourage, and in some places, direct communities to address the dilemma, which at present shows no sign of abating. The solution, he added, is not a politically favorable one. “It needs to come from both the top down and the bottom up,” he said, noting it requires a non-partisan leadership of the governor and General Assembly working together on equitable solutions. “And people at the grassroots have to motivate the politicians. They need to embrace the issue of affordable housing, and tell the governor and General Assembly that this is a severe problem and to fix it!”

There is too much at stake to ignore it. Consider the realities, which have redefined “affordable housing.” Needy, in Rhode Island, is now a relative word:

  • A household earning $50,000-a-year can no longer afford a home in any Rhode Island community, notes a recent HousingWorksRI study. And households earning $100,000 annually can afford a modest home in only half of Rhode Island’s communities
  • Bright college graduates from Brown, Providence College and other area colleges are leaving Rhode Island by the thousands because they cannot afford to live here, draining the state’s educated work force.
  • And so companies once considering expanding here or relocating to Rhode Island are now looking elsewhere, like to the southeast and southwest where workers can afford housing as a result of thoughtful land use and zoning regulations. The medium price of a single-family home in Greater Providence is close to $300,000; in rural Exeter it’s about $400,000—an annual increase of about 25 percent. By comparison, in the Raleigh, NC area the medium home price is $197,000.
  • The housing shortage is expected to worsen. Rhode Island’s population is growing four times faster than its housing stock. At least 1200 people who stayed in the state emergency shelters in the last year were employed! And of the 50,000 new jobs projected by 2010, about 24,000—48 percent—will pay wages too low to even rent a two-bedroom apartment, given the rising cost of housing.

Many are weighing in on the problem now, supporting a proposed plan to build 5,000 affordable housing units over the next five years. Housing advocates are seeking to jump start the plan by asking voters this fall to approve a $75 million state bond issue to build, renovate and rehabilitate houses that Rhode Islanders can afford.

The affordable housing issue is spilling over into the middle class and threatens to swamp it, said a spokesman for the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation in a recent interview with East Bay Newspapers “I think people have to realize that housing is not affordable to anyone anymore,” added Steve Ostiguy, executive director of Church Community Housing, which is responsible for many affordable housing projects. “There is no community in which the average family can purchase a home anymore.”

Officials and housing advocates agree that Rhode Island’s economy will suffer dramatically if working people—school teachers, policemen, fireman, municipal workers, and professionals—cannot afford a place to live.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, for every ten jobs created in a local economy, seven new housing units are needed to support the increase. To date, building permits issued in Rhode Island fall short of meeting Gov. Carcieri’s job creation goal by thousands of homes.

“How can this state grow if we cannot even meet our current demand for affordable housing, never mind adding new jobs and homes,” Stephen Olsen, who heads the Rhode Island Builders Association, said recently.

The answer is you can’t get there from here.

No doubt, the construction of thousands of homes and apartments would have a significant impact on the housing shortage in Rhode Island. So why not remove some of the barriers to construction, the North Kingston and East Greenwich Independent asked in a recent editorial. “Communities that continue to hang on to the building permit caps, while forming committees to study the affordable housing problem are wasting their time,” the paper said. “A more lenient regulatory climate could be accomplished without damaging the environment and it could be done for a limited period of time, until the supply of housing is more in balance with the demand.”

Concedes Providence Journal writer John Kostrzewa in a column headlined: Affordable Housing, Jobs Go Together, “The steep (home) price appreciation—while making Rhode Island homeowners house rich—has over the year already done much damage. It’s hurt companies’ plans to create jobs, and it’s locked many people out of owning a home.”

All politics, Gov. Carcieri, is local, and if you look hard enough, you might find the political and grassroots support to fix this. As Tip O’Neill might say, “The Ayes have it!”

From Cape Cod To The Berkshires: Special Olympics Summer Games Best Ticket In Town!

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

We spend so much time these days pondering the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Dirk Nowitzki. How about Hanah Laviano?

At birth, Hanah was diagnosed with two rare chromosomal abnormalities, the combination of which makes her the only one in the world with such a diagnosis. The 11-year-old Bay State resident has had to deal with Epilepsy, osteoporosis, asthma, severe GI malfunction that required a g-tube when she was a year old, Tethered-Cord Syndrome that damaged her spinal nerves, fine and gross motor delays, a hole in her heart, and oh yes, cancer!

You can cheer on Hanah at the 35th anniversary Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) Summer Games, held at Harvard and MIT on June 16-18 where she will compete in track and field events, along with athletes from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. A Special Olympics Global Messenger who excels at computers and filmmaking, Hanah will be joining more than 2,500 athletes, ages 8-to-80, in eight sporting events that range from aquatics, to power lifting, to sailing and tennis, to volleyball and roller skating.

It will be a far better take than watching Clemens return to the Astros, Bonds chase Hank Aaron, or Nowitzki try to chill the Heat. Spectators, volunteers and contributors are all needed for the SOMA games. Special Olympics Massachusetts—whose mission is to provide year-round sports training and Olympic-type sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities to develop physical fitness, build self-esteem and prepare them for school and community programs—is solely funded through private and corporate donations. It costs about $550 for a year of training and competition for each SOMA athlete—an investment that rivals the best hedge fund in results.

“Since deinstitutionalization in the 1970s (moving intellectually disabled individuals from institutions to community-based programs), the life expectancy of these individuals has increased by 26 years,” Robert Johnson, SOMA president and CEO, said in an interview. “We don’t do anyone a favor by extending a life, if we don’t improve the quality of it. I believe Special Olympics is society’s answer to a healthier, longer life for people with intellectual disabilities.”

At present, about 9300 athletes compete in Special Olympics Massachusetts programs, with a goal of doubling the number by 2010, according to Jim O’Brien, a SOMA executive consultant. “Special Olympics are sport in its purest form,” he said. “Winning here is getting to the starting line, not who crosses the finish line first.”

Corporations and private donors can help these athletes get to the starting line through sponsorships and volunteering. It just takes a phone call to SOMA headquarters in Danvers at 978-774-1501, or go online at:

“We are totally dependent on the generosity of private citizens and corporations to keep this significant program moving forward,” said Johnson.

Any doubts about it, come watch Hanah Laviano, who has endured four major surgeries, find the inside lane in track this month at the SOMA Summer Games. It will be the best ticket in town. 

Boston Herald?s Pat Purcell: Catcher In The Rye Of Newspapering

By Greg O’Brien, reprinted from the June Issue of the Boston Irish Reporter

There’s a reason Pat Purcell liked to catch. He wasn’t fast enough to play outfield. But more to the point, this street-smart, hustling Queens kid with an Irish name and durable Gaelic way wanted to lead. As a young field general, he delighted in directing a pitcher to throw high and tight, a third baseman to guard the line, and a centerfielder to shift toward right. And like most good catchers of the day, on balls hit to the infield, he chugged full armor up the line to back up the throw to first—always in a foot race with the base runner. Nobody was going to beat Pat Purcell at anything. Nobody!

Flash forward forty four years, and this catcher-turned-publisher sits in his spacious second floor office at the Boston Herald at the One Herald Square, and is at a loss, as he ponders a publishing future about as clear today as Pesky Pole on a pea soup night. Just weeks ago he sold his farm club for a reported $225 million—the gainful suburban-oriented Community Newspaper Company, with its 92 weeklies (including The Cape Codder, The Register, the Harwich Oracle and Upper Cape Codder), four dailies and numerous pennysavers that one day a week gave Herald Media the circulation punch and advertising reach of The Boston Globe. The new owners, GateHouse Media—an Illinois-based chain of more than 270 community-focused publications, backed by the New York venture capital firm and hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group, LLC—will now have a one-two punch with its parallel acquisition of Enterprise NewsMedia Holding LLC, publishers of the Patriot Ledger, the Enterprise of Brockton and 23 Memorial Press Group (MPG) weeklies and other publications south of Boston.

Purcell, who earlier this year had tried unsuccessfully to recapitalize his 2001 purchase of Community Newspaper Company from Fidelity Investments as three minority partners sought to cash out, has structured the GateHouse sale agreement to include ongoing advertising cross-selling, cross-promotion and editorial content sharing with the Herald.

“It wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for,” concedes Purcell, who at 58 still looks trim and ready to call a game. “I was hoping to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I was hoping to have Community Newspapers and the Enterprise along with the Herald, and expand on that. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

There are some in the newspaper world who might say: game over! Pack up the bats. The mighty Globe, backed by an affluent, dominant New York parent, has won the final game of this subway series. “I don’t ever predict the death of newspapers,” newspaper consultant John Morton said in a Boston Phoenix report on the sale. “(But) the history of the newspaper business tells us that second papers in the Herald’s position are a dying breed.”

Not a chance, insists Purcell, who purchased the Herald in 1994 from mentor Rupert Murdoch. There is plenty of baseball to play. And besides, Purcell has made a successful career of second place campaigns, first as an advertising sales manager at the New York Daily News, then as publisher of the New York Post in both internecine newspaper warfare and up against the nemesis New York Times. So who’s your daddy now? No way is this trenchant New Yorker going to limp out of Boston a loser. Son of a high-rise construction worker, who was born in the heart of Waterford and knew the value of good balance, Purcell still has his game face, and he is very much alive.

“Never say die,” he declares. “We’re going to ramp up! One thing that’s clear to me is that there is enormous interest in what the Herald has to say. We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. There’s essentially no debt on the Herald now, and we’re back to square one. The business has always had to stand on its own. So we’ll just take our chances.”

Smart money in certain publishing circles might take those odds with Purcell, who has been described as a “packhorse,” at the helm. Time, as it always does, will be the final arbitrator, as the Herald and the Globe continue grabbling with more cutbacks and new directions. The Herald brain trust today is tabloid-deep in analysis. “We’re going back to the drawing board, and analyzing what we have to do to keep ourselves going and make the transition. We’re going to be more involved with the Internet, and become a much-more broad-based multi-media company,” he says, pausing to acknowledge his daughter Erin, who is standing in the lobby outside his office. Head of Herald Media Internet operations, she is pregnant with twins.

“Will you be around later?” he calls out to her in a fatherly tone that suggests delivery may be imminent.

Patrick Joseph Purcell is all about family and extended family. He and his wife, Maureen, have four children—Kathleen, Erin, Patrick and Kerry, ranging in ages from 34 to 26. Kerry writes for the paper, and Purcell’s son-in-law Greg Rush is CNC’s associate publisher and chief operating officer, and will remain in that role.

Born in College Point, Queens, the oldest of three children, Purcell was named after his father and his grandfather, who hailed from Killarney. “I’m actually a third,” he says. Up in pricy Westchester County, they’d call that “trips,” but in meat-and-potatoes Queens, he was just Pat.

Pat lived over the G&W Tavern before moving to a two-family home, owned by his mother Sara’s parents, who had raised their daughter in the nearby Corona section of Queens. Living quarters there were tight, too tight for Purcell’s dad, who needed space from his in-laws. A man of enormous work ethic and pride, his father—who had emigrated to New York as a child and had lived in an orphanage until his parents could support him—left Greenland to work on the construction of Thule Air Force Base so he could earn enough money for the down payment on a starter home. For about $11,000, he bought a “handy-man” special in a blue collar, Irish-German-Italian enclave four blocks up from the East River between the Whitestone Bridge (that he helped to paint) and LaGuardia Airport. 

Like father, like son, young Purcell learned the value of hard work at an early age, lugging large rocks for his father up from the East River to be used to shore up the foundation of the newly acquired home. Every square of it in time was rebuilt. “Backbreaking work,” as Purcell recalls, noting his father was no stranger to the regiment. On his day job, he built scaffolding used in the construction of Manhattan high rises, and walked in thin air on pipes two inches in diameter. At 82, the elder Purcell, who now lives in Florida, still rides a bike and swims in the ocean almost every day. Purcell’s mother, a devoted homemaker, passed away five years ago.

Even though his parents were not highly educated, education was a staple in the Purcell Home. Purcell attended Mater Christi Catholic High School where he excelled in school, played baseball, was named honorable mention to the All-City team and graduated in the first graduating class of 1965. He was introduced to the newspaper business the summer of his freshman year, working as an office boy in the Daily News advertising department—his first exposure to a white collar environment. He worked there for several summers, and took to the business immediately, although first impressions are not always lasting. “It struck me that selling ads looked like a pretty good living and not breaking a sweat,” he recalls. If his sales staff could hear him now!

After high school, Purcell enrolled in St. John’s where he studied marketing and played baseball his freshman year. With a strong arm, he was immediately converted to a pitcher, pitching 11 innings and giving up a single hit. Not bad for a guy used to squatting on his balls of his feet. But his grades suffered from playing ball, working part time and “partying too hard.” At the end of the year, he was told he was not welcome back at St. John’s, missing the academic cutoff by a tenth of a point. That fall he attended American International College in Springfield for a semester, then returned to St. John’s in the spring, retiring his spikes not an inning too soon for the books.

After college, Purcell pursued his passion for selling ads.

“What does it take to do this?” he asked friends at the News.

“You got to be able to talk to people and close a deal,” he was told.

No problem, he thought. He had sold Christmas cards to buy his first baseball mitt, and once sold indulgences for a high school fundraiser. “You know,” he says “if you sign up for a hundred bucks, you get 30 fewer days in purgatory.” Hell, he figured, selling newspaper ads would be a breeze.

Purcell was hired at the News in June of ’69, selling ads out of the Hackensack, N.J. office and working his way up the retail and classified ladders. After fielding a few lower management positions, he was asked in 1979 to direct a sales presentation group, and took the assignment with the promise of a key management position when one opened. Fifteen months later—married and with three children at the time—he was passed over, and when management reneged, the feisty Purcell left the paper, landing a job as associate publisher at the Village Voice, with direct line responsibility to its publisher and better yet, direct access to owner Murdoch. Too little, too late, Daily News executives tried in vain to keep him. “You can’t go to work for Murdoch,” they implored, a reference to Murdoch’s swashbuckling style. “Your career will be over.”

But Purcell’s career was just about to take off. “The Daily News was so political,” says Purcell. “The paper was losing market share in the suburbs, and everyone was writing memos to cover their ass. I don’t think I ever wrote a memo at the Voice or later at the Post. Murdoch was only interested in results. Take a chance, and get the job done!”

Two weeks after Purcell was hired, Murdoch invited him to lunch, setting in motion a relationship that would last decades. Within a year and a half, Purcell was promoted to vice president of ad sales at the Post where in six months he increased the contracted department store business from 200,000 lines to 1.3 million lines, most of it as the News’s expense. A year later when Macy’s flattered Purcell with an offer to become its promotion sales manager, Murdoch told his protégé over a brief sit-down: “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! We’re going to be the biggest media company in the world and you’re positioned here to play a key part in it, and you want to give that up to sell women’s underwear?”

End of discussion. Purcell stayed. Who wouldn’t? Unlike his bosses at the News, Murdoch made good on his pledge to Purcell, buying up media properties that included the old Boston Herald American, and creating new opportunities. In 1984, Purcell was appointed president and publisher of the Boston Herald, and in 1987 he also assumed   responsibility as publisher of the New York Post. Three years later, Purcell was named president of News America/Newspapers, with additional responsibilities for the San Antonio Express-News, and in 1993, he was appointed president and chief executive officer of New America Publishing. Inc., with responsibilities, in addition to the newspapers, for: TV Guide, the nation’s largest selling weekly magazine; Mirabella Magazine; and Product Movers and Quad, free-standing insert companies.

Not a bad tradeoff for a guy who had been thinking of selling skivvies.

Murdoch saved the best for last. After reacquiring the Post in 1993, Murdoch—who had been forced to sell the paper because of federal regulations limiting cross media ownership—decided to put the Herald up for sale. Purcell was asked if he wanted to make an offer.

“I know you don’t have the money, and I understand you don’t want partners, but I would like you to have the paper,” Murdoch told him, asking Purcell and his wife to fly to his Los Angeles headquarters to discuss a deal structure.

 Purcell was stunned. “We just bought the Herald,” he told his wife moments after his conversation with Murdoch.

“How are we going to pay for it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said the smart guy from Queens. “We’re going out to LA to find out!”

What Purcell lacked in resources, he more than made up in moxie over the years, and Murdoch was some impressed. In particular, Murdoch was delighted with Purcell’s bare-knuckle negotiations with the Post’s tough unions to secure the necessary cuts for the repurchase. One high New York official, who was concerned the Post might close and who was instrumental in behind-the-scenes 11th hour talks, called Purcell’s home after Purcell had pulled the plug on discussions. “This is Mario Cuomo, and I work for the state of New York,” the voice on the other end of the phone said. “What can I do to help?”

It was now Murdoch’s turn to help. While Purcell won’t discuss the sale price of the Herald, he admits the transaction was earth shattering. The trip to LA had to be put off a few days because of the ’94 earthquake that hit 6.6 on the Richter scale.

It is now late in the morning on a brilliant May day, and Purcell generously has spent hours with a visitor. He even apologizes for “going on like that.” It is clear the newspaper passion still runs deep in this man who used to schlep boulders up from the East River to secure a foundation. Purcell knows the value of a sturdy cornerstone, and has no plans of discarding his. The Herald, he resolutely insists, is not going anywhere. At least, any time soon. It’s the Irish in him that keeps Purcell in motion—that matchless combination of personality, wit, work ethic, and a stubborn, almost mulish, refusal to give in or give up when the mind and body aches. 

Any good catcher knows how that is. 


(Greg O’Brien is editor and president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political strategy company based in Brewster. The author/editor of several books, he contributes to regional and national publications, is a Boston Metro columnist, a former political and investigative reporter for the old Boston Herald American, former senior writer at Boston Magazine, and a founding managing director of Community Newspaper Company.)


Wrong Number: Spying On The Average Joe

In stark departure from their vexing practice of dropping calls, phone titans AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth are now dropping dimes on customers. Can you hear them now?

codfishpressl“We…have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare,” AT&T spokesman Selim Bingol declared last week, in response to a USA Today report that the nation’s three largest phone companies in an Orwellian data troll had aided and abetted the National Security Agency (NSA) in collecting the private records of tens of millions of domestic phone calls since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

If ever there was a disconnect!

Why just months ago President Bush guaranteed us a “fiercely protected” privacy—on the lip of a New York Times report that he had sanctioned the NSA to engage in domestic eavesdropping without warrants. This latest wrong number has Democrats and some Republicans on the horn, chatting up plans for a far-ranging investigation of the practice on grounds of its legality and the involvement of Vice President Dick Cheney and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Bush’s misguided pick to head the CIA.

  “The concept of the NSA having near real-time access to information about every call made in the country is chilling,” Kenneth C. Bass III, a former Justice Department counsel on intelligence policy, said in a New York Times report last Thursday. 

But supporters of the data dump defend it, lamenting that a public outcry over this policy will lead to another protracted debate over just how far the intelligence community should go in the fight against terrorism. 

The timing for such a collective reflection is unimpeachable.

Are you a terrorist? Inquiring minds want to know. But before we start bugging everyone, we ought first to ask: What are the parameters of this war? Will it ever end? How many freedoms are we willing to sacrifice to discern if a neighbor is a monstrous revolutionary? Where do we stop?

We clearly lack vision in this fight. Picking the low fruit on a phone tree is not a strategy; it’s a sign we don’t have a clue about where we are headed in this black hole of evil. The road is leading to a police state.

It’s time, Mr. President, to reach out and touch us with a plan!

Regardless of where you live and where you work, from Cape Cod to Cabo San Lucas, there is something for everyone in the Wizard of Edgar!

go to wizardofedgarWhether you are a financial analyst, lawyer, investor, stockholder, researcher, journalist, student, or a business executive researching sales leads and information, there’s no place like home when it comes to the Wizard Of Edgar—an innovative, targeted, full-text search engine mining the SEC database of the electronic filings of public companies. At no charge, the Wizard ( allows users to call up SEC documents in a blink of a wand, and retrieve specific words or phrases in the public filing, as well as a company history, revenues, financial officers, company goals and missions, liabilities, pending lawsuits, and any specific information the user is seeking.

Powered by Exxenium eSystem Architecture, a state-of-the-art custom software company headquartered in Braintree and specializing in web application development, the Wizard of Edgar—officially launched this week—is the most cost-effective and time-efficient free, full-text search engine for the financial, legal, media, educational and service industries, as well as investors and stockholders.

“The Wizard’s ability to instantly find key words and phrases in multiple locations and in separate documents saves users countless hours of having to search through thousands of pages of filings for needed information,” said Exxenium CEO Robert McQuaid. “It bring you directly to these words and phrases within the documents.”

Added Exxenium President Edward P. Crowley, “The Wizard’s application is broad-based. It can easily be used, without any training, as a research and educational tool, or as a sales tool for business or investment opportunities. Stockholders in a public company or potential stockholders can use the Wizard of Edgar to search for any information on any public company contained within the database. There is no limit to what you can search.”

Conceived and developed over the past 12 months by Exxenium Chief Informations Officer Carlos Dantas, the Wizard Of Edgar is more efficient and resourceful than other search engines of its type available at no cost to the public in that it targets specific public documents, filed under the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR system (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval). For speed in retrieval and targeted financial searches, the information is downloaded on to the Wizard of Edgar search engine and updated regularly for Wizard users. In the next two quarters, Exxenium plans to launch search engines in related fields, and a targeted advertising campaign.

The Wizard of Edgar also is available in private label versions for use in sales leads and private label extras that include the E-Campaign module and the Sales Prospector. The sales prospector allows users to save their searches and assign them to an interactive secure online sales management and prospecting system, which is directly linked to an online e-mail campaign center that allows multiple secure e-mails to be sent to prospects and registered members. 

“The magic of the Wizard of Edgar is its simplicity, sophistication and broad range of applications for anyone looking for information on public companies,” said Exxenium President Crowley.

For more information, just click your mouse and visit the Wizard on line at Exxenium representatives are also available for on-line demonstrations of the Wizard of Edgar, and can be contacted at [email protected].

Avoiding The Deadly Sin Of Greed

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

With May Day upon us, word last week that the nation’s economy was rebounding at a 4.8 percent pace seemed to take some of the edge off recent cries of greed that had been accelerated by distress calls of price gouging at the pumps, soaring oil company profits, an executive compensation package that netted out $114,000-a-day for playing corporate cribbage, and a president who doubts drivers are being overcharged for gas. The litany spawned a spate of defenders of the American way, challenging dumb-heads like me for suggesting restraint.

Even my nephew, an investment banker type in New York, weighed in. “No one cries when…others make hundreds of millions and billions off tech investments,” he wrote in an e-mail to me. “Why is running Exxon Mobil Corp. any different? This is the way capital markets work.”

He’s correct, but that’s just the point, a jarring footnote to Gordon Gekko’s address to the covetous Teldar Paper stockholders in the 1987 movie "Wall Street," a bleak commentary on our collective desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring all else. “Greed is right,” the high-flying Gekko preached in dialogue that is now cliché but every bit as relevant.  “Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Check the altimeter, folks. Many of us today are flying upside down. Present company included. I’m strapped in with the rest of them. Some have more wisely chosen other means of transportation, and are role models to consider, at least in their outlooks. For example, Barry Hynes, former president of the Boston City Council and son of the late Boston Mayor John B. Hynes, has been devoting his life for years to helping disadvantaged children from South Boston to Rwanda, establishing tuition-free schools and programs. “The world tells us to accumulate wealth, as much as we can, but that’s robbing us of great possibilities,” he says in a Boston Irish Reporter profile. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die with any money in the bank.”

Neither does selfless County Cork-born Fr. Daniel J. Finn, who has pastured St. Mark’s in Dorchester, the church where Rose Kennedy and her father “Honey Fitz” once worshipped. “You have to meet people’s needs before you can preach to them,” he said last year in an interview. Finn tells the story of a spider that lay on the flat of his back with his feet in the air. “What are you doing down there?” a man asked the spider.

“I’m trying to hold up the sky,” the spider responds.

“That’s ridiculous,” the observer replies. “How can you do that?”

“Well, one does what one can,” says the spider.

But to do what one can, one must first open their eyes, cautions naturalist, friend and writing legend John Hay, the author of 16 books on nature and man. “Sometimes I think many of the world’s problems could be solved if people just stepped outside and looked around,” Hay, who lives up the street in Brewster on Dry Hill, notes in David Gessner’s new work, The Prophet of Dry Hill. “…It’s hard for people to get the idea these days.”

Get it or not, one way or another we are all spiders on our backs. The difference is whether we are resting, or holding something up—eyes wide open.



Priming the Pumps: Oil Companies Cash In On The Cape

By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press

Timing is everything. Particularly when it comes to the cost these days of a gallon of gas. “Excuse me,” the man at the pump in Brewster said Saturday evening as I reached for my Visa card, close to its limit, to pump a tank full. “I hate to do this to you, but the price just went up,” he declared, swapping a price card that now charged $3.05 for a gallon of mid-grade unleaded.

“Didn’t realize Iran was that close to home,” I replied.

Batten down your wallets; the price of gasoline is rising like a storm surge in the Persian Gulf, quicker than you can say, “gouging.” And with the price of gasoline at a sticky $75-a-barrel, don’t stop buying lottery tickets.

Supply and demand, right? Well, not exactly. The United Arab Emirates energy minister concedes there is no oil shortage, indicating a dearth of OPEC patience to hold market prices to their current record levels. Get this: oil resources are sufficient to meet growing worldwide demand for at least the next 25 years, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which provides official energy statistics. The EIA estimated last year that world oil consumption was expected to grow from 29 billion barrels per year in 2002 to 44 billion barrels per year in 2005. “Under these growth assumptions, less than half of the world’s total oil resources would be exhausted by 2025,” the EIA concluded.

So what’s the problem? It’s a grade of crude called “greed!” And you can find it in abundant supply in the Middle East and in the cushy boardrooms of our major oil companies, whose profits are accelerating faster than a cruise missile. For example, Exxon’s net income, notes the New York Times, has levitated from $4.8 billion in 1992 to last year’s record $36.13 billion. And while you were choking at the pumps, Exxon chief Lee R. Raymond was skipping to the bank. Raymond, who retired four months ago, was compensated more than $686 million from 1993 to 2005, according to an analysis done for the Times. “That’s $114,573 for each day he spent leading Exxon’s ‘God pod,’ as the executive suite at the company’s headquarters in Irving, Texas, is known,” the Times reported recently.

It’s enough to make you puke a bucket of ethanol. Speaking of alternatives, our oil-friendly President George Bush was drilling dry holes on Earth Day, shilling for hydrogen fuel cells to power cars—a technology, backed by oil companies and auto makers, that is years from fruition. Democrats correctly have insisted on promoting a more immediate manufacture of synthetic fuel from coal and the use of alternative fueling sources.

Doesn’t require a rocket scientist to conclude we must take the greed out of oil production and find new, less costly, ways of powering our cars. Even Bush finally gets it. “We have a real problem when it comes to oil,” he said Saturday.

Step on it, Mr. President!


Patriots' Day: Down On The Farm

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Something to consider on Patriots’ Day as thousands mass and turn inward to Boston: Our founding fathers cautioned against straying too far from the farm. George Washington in his farewell address laid the cornerstone for American non-intervention. “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is…to have with them as little political connection as possible,” he advised. Thomas Jefferson in his 1801 inauguration speech preached “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” And President James Monroe in his Monroe Doctrine stressed,  “It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for war.”

Breaking ranks two centuries later with the intellectual elite, an enlightened President George Bush in his February State of the Union address railed against talk of isolation, pledging that his administration would “act boldly in freedom’s cause” and seek the end of tyranny” in the world. “We accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed.”

Had he been in the House gallery at the time, Jefferson might have cracked, “say what?” The strict constructionist still has loyal followers. In a back-to-the-future USA Today/Gallup Poll, released Friday, nearly half those surveyed believe “we should mind our own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own.” 

Bush apparently never got the memo. “My position is clear,” he said last week. “I’m absolutely for this United States of America to stay engaged to the world.”

Could be an insidious marriage, but Bush is at least partially correct in his appraisal that conditions today, which did not exist in Jefferson’s time, make it complicated, if not impossible, to extricate ourselves from the world: a global economy; threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation; and the likelihood of catastrophic, high flying pandemics. The debate, however, ought not to be over isolationism; it must instead be about good choices, and in this arena, the Bush Administration has so bungled its foreign policy with bad decisions, wrong assessments and flag-waving rhetoric as to blur the line between the non-intervention and sound strategy.

Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich, writing recently in the Los Angeles Times, was correct in his appraisal that Washington was not an isolationist, but rather the “founding father of American realism,” the pragmatic discipline of not biting off more than you can digest. “Contriving phony charges of isolationism to dodge tough, practical questions is not only dishonest, but is reckless and irresponsible,” he wrote.

So what’s the game plan, Mr. President? We have a no-win war in Iraq, a Middle East again at its boiling point, nukes on the way, and a nut in Iran who has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. As we collectively head up Heartbreak Hill today, hope the strategy is more concrete than seeking an end to tyranny and delivering the oppressed.

Save that—and leaping tall buildings with a single bound—for Superman!

An Ancient Blog: The Judas Tapes

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

As we approach Easter and Passover, the holiest periods of the Christian and Jewish calendars, science has drilled deep into the ground and up into the firmament for revelations on religion and the history of man. Applying Newton’s gravitation theory of “what goes up must come down,” scientists, as usual, will prove to be far better anthropologists than theologians.

"Open wide... about 9,000 years or so" 

In an otherwise painful discovery last week, scientists announced that dentistry, the drilling of teeth, is prehistoric—something all of us who hate trips to the dentist have known for a lifetime.

Scientists have unearthed an ancient graveyard in a remote section of Pakistan that indicates prehistoric dentists drilled tiny holes into cavemen’s teeth 7,500 to 9,000 years ago, sans Novocain, of course. Yikes!

The "missing link-fish" 

Scientists then heralded the discovery of what Darwinians pray will be the missing evolutionary link from sea to land animals and ultimately man—showcasing the fossil of a 375 million-year-old scaly, crocodile-like fish, called Tiktaalik, with fins that presage the beginnings of digits, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

It’s proof positive, some say, that the creationists are all wet. While Titaalik may have legs, others question whether the missing link presumption has wings, flying in the face of the Almighty’s power to create. 

Last, but hardly least - Gnostic Gospel of Judas

Finally, like the wine at Cana, science saved the best for last, with National Geographic Society scholars trumpeting a translation of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas—what appears to be an ancient blog imagining a secret handshake between Jesus and Judas Iscariot that portrays Judas as a “favored disciple” and a “willing collaborator” with Jesus in handing Christ over to the Romans for execution. The Judas Gospel, declared a fraud in the year 180 by church father Irenaeus of Lyon, has more deep holes and splinters than the Cross itself. Project scholars have suggested the text—written more than 100 years after the fact and at variance with the eye-witness first century accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—could stand traditional beliefs about early Christianity on its head. But to imply the Gospel of Judas reveals anything factual about Judas, “is like saying a document written 150 years after George Washington died tells us the inside truth about George Washington,” New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington stated in a New York Times report.

It is certainly tempting to question the release of this translation and an anticipated exchange of silver on the eve of a National Geographic television documentary, the publication of its May issue, and the shilling of two related books. Scientists in the future may find other evidence of ancient bloggers, prehistoric dentists, fish that walk and pigs that fly, but I am reminded of a commentary on the subject years ago in the Los Angles Times. The writer noted that as scientists scale the mountain of knowledge, clawing their way to the summit, they will one day reach the peak, only to find the theologians have been camping there for centuries.