Bob Massie

Archive for the ‘Things I Wrote Before’ Category

How Obama Detoured Around the South

In Politics, Things I Wrote Before on January 12, 2009 at 3:59 am

Before we say a complete goodbye to the campaign, I wanted to make one more “electoral college” comment. I posted this on Facebook just before I decided to start a new blog.

More than one commentator has noticed that Barack Obama has so far drawn few cabinet members and senior staff from the South. His choices may simply be the result of the complex balancing act required by appointments. It also may represent a more noticeable shift away from a region that has dominated presidential politics for more than 60 years.

This year Democrats won the White House for the first time since 1944 (when Roosevelt ran with Truman) without a Southerner on the ticket. Since that election in the middle of World War II, the Democratic party has felt the obligation to offer a Southerner as president or vice-president in every electoral contest, with only one exception (1972). Truman brought in Alban Barkeley of Kentucky in 1948. Stevenson tapped John Sparkman of Alabama in 1952 and then Estes Kefauver of Tennessee in 1956. Kennedy turned to Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960. When Kennedy died, Lyndon Johnson became the first Southern president in a century, in bizarre imitation of his long-ago namesake, Andrew Johnson, who had also risen to power after Lincoln’s assassination.

When Lyndon Johnson was re-elected in the landslide of 1964, the South had been reliably Democratic – with the exception of the special circumstance of Reconstruction – for more than 130 years. In 1968, however, the segregationist George Wallace, governor of Alabama, ran as an independent and began to undermine these traditional Democratic ties. That same year, Richard Nixon, who had lost to Kennedy in 1960 when African-Americans deserted the ‘party of Lincoln’ over civil rights, paid them back by initiating the infamous “southern strategy,” an appeal to racial anxieties that eventually lured millions of conservative whites and transformed the former slave states into Republican strongholds.

From then on winning the South gradually came to be seen as the key to the White House, especially for Democrats, especially after the McGovern-Shriver experiment of 1972 went down to a crushing defeat. After that Democrats felt obliged to place a southerner somewhere on the ticket, preferably at the top.

Jimmy Carter won his primaries and the general election with the help of newly engaged southern Christians (few people today remember that TIME magazine declared 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical” because of this victory). In 1988 Al Gore of Tennesee fell short of the nomination because his Super Tuesday cluster of Southern states fell to a three-way split with Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis; when Dukakis emerged as the nominee he unsuccessfully tried to nail down a general election victory with Texan Lloyd Bentsen. Bill Clinton then doubled up on the Dixie strategy by embracing Al Gore as his running mate in 1992 — and won.

In 2000 Americans had two Southerners running for President – Texas governor George W. Bush challenged Vice President Gore, who was running nationally for the fourth time. Bush skidded unevenly through the campaign using coded language to signal his trustworthiness to conservatives in the south and west while insisting that to everyone else that he was ideologically a uniter and centrist. Both Gore’s popular vote majority and his court-determined electoral college loss offered early signals of the erosion of the South’s singular power at the ballot box. We know that Bush officially won Florida by only 537 votes. We forget that If 3,600 votes had switched sides in New Hampshire, neither the hanging chads of Florida nor the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote would have mattered.

In 2004 John Kerry attempted the Dixie play again, with John Edwards of North Carolina, but was turned aside by voters in Ohio, a famously split state whose southern counties are often more conservative than parts of its neighbor to the south, Kentucky.

This past November – for only the second time in 64 years – we witnessed what could happen if there were no Southerner anywhere on a national ticket. In 2008 McCain came out the West (Arizona), while his running mate Sarah Palin represented the even more far-flung parts of America – as well as Alaska. With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket anchoring the northern cities and reaching out to the upper Midwest (MI, WI MN, OH), Joe Biden was the closest thing to a Southerner to be found, though Biden spoke of his roots in Pennsylvania at least as often as he mentioned his border state home in Delaware.

Of course, Obama’s victory signified the convergence of many factors and it would certainly be premature to suggest that the South’s role in American politics has permanently been diminished. Yet the raw strangeness of Obama’s accomplishment, when set in its historical context, provides considerable opportunity for reflection.

Obama will not only be the first African-American president, but also the heir to the mid-western tradition of Abraham Lincoln, and the standard bearer of the former political party of the Confederacy, which steadily built up northern support through Cleveland, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, all the while retaining its Southern strength. Obama will enter the White House as the first northern Democratic president in nearly 50 years, and will have done so with a two-to-one electoral college victory that included only a handful of Southern states (VA, NC, and FL).

Before we turn to weighing the challenge that our new president faces, we should pause to recall the magnitude of what he has already achieved. Though surmounting the barrier of race is clearly the most astonishing, we would do well to recall some of the geographic obstacles Obama overcame. America has had Republican presidents for 28 of the last 40 years – more than two-thirds of the time. For 12 of those 28 years we were ruled by men from one family, the seemingly unstoppable Bushes, whose Bible belt strength came in part from running for president or vice president six times (every cycle from 1980 to 2004, with the exception of 1996). The only successful avenue open to Democrats – judging from Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – seemed to be to draw a nominee from the South.

Guided by a truly new political GPS system, Obama took another route. His road trip to the White House was exceptional not only because he took many new people with him, but because along the way he redrew the map.

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Infrastructure spending for families

In Business and Sustainability, Politics, Things I Wrote Before on January 12, 2009 at 3:48 am

This is an op-ed that appeared in several forms on the Internet and was published in the Boston Globe on December 13

Barack Obama  intends to invest in public infrastructure and boost green technologies. These powerful ideas should be more directly connected.As many have noted – such as the newly established Green Justice Coalition – we could solve many problems at once by stopping the waste of energy and dollars flooding out of American homes.

Think of this as “infrastructure spending for American families.”We need to break free from our paralysis. When energy prices rise, we can’t afford efficiency improvements. When prices drop, the payback seems too long. This is the business-crushing vacillation between “shock and trance” to which Obama referred two weeks ago.

So how do we make repairs despite fluctuations in the price of oil and gas? The solution is simple and elegant: The state could set up a leveraged investment fund to help families make changes immediately.

Here’s how it would work. The state would allocate a small amount of money to guarantee a fixed interest rate for private investors. Sixty million dollars would be enough to pay a mouth-watering 6 percent on $1 billion. The money would be disbursed at zero percent to anyone willing to make an investment in insulation or heating systems. Renters could split the benefits with owners. The loans would be paid back directly from the savings.

Such a program would achieve five goals at once.

First, it would create local jobs – from blowing insulation and training energy auditors to installing super-efficient boilers. These jobs would swiftly pay back the original investment by government, since workers would pay both state and federal taxes. There would be an additional multiplier effect as both families and workers had more money to spend. And $1 billion could generate as many as 10,000 jobs in Massachusetts. It would also reinvigorate training and other youth programs such as YouthBuild.

Second, it would improve housing values. We have efficiency stickers on appliances; why not on houses? States should fix this through mandatory disclosure of the likely energy costs – or savings – of any home for sale. An energy audit would thus become a routine part of routine home inspections. Homes with upgraded efficiency would instantly be worth more.

Third, it would increase disposable income for families. Right now the state scrambles every winter to find millions for fuel assistance. Economically this is like burning crumpled dollar bills to keep poor people warm. Morally it holds low- and middle-income families hostage to the profit demands of energy companies. It would make far more sense to invest some of those dollars in permanent change to cut energy use.

Fourth, it would bring new technologies rapidly to scale. Did you know that you can install a one-cylinder co-generation unit – known as the Freewatt system – in your basement that creates hot water, heat, and slices your electric bill?

One homeowner in Somerville insulated his house and dug a 250-foot well in his tiny backyard. He uses the stable temperature of the ground water to heat and cool his house for less than $150 a month. There are many revolutionary technologies ahead, but to bring the unit costs down, you have to push the volume up.

Fifth, it will drive down greenhouse gas emissions. In Massachusetts, approximately 1 million homes burn nearly a billion gallons of heating oil every winter. Cutting emissions from this single sector by 25 percent would lower Massachusetts emissions by at least 3 million tons a year.

Is this really possible? Yes. We need the Patrick administration to set visionary residential energy-efficiency targets, which so far it has failed to do. And we need President-elect Obama to take his two good ideas – investment in infrastructure and green technology – and press them into one.

It will not help American families over the long run if we get to drive down big roads in new cars, only to park them in front of cold houses.

The most fundamental infrastructures for individuals and families are the places we live. We have the ability to create savings that will last for generations while safeguarding our planet.

The question now is whether we can muster the will.

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We Become What We Believe

In Things I Wrote Before on January 12, 2009 at 2:14 am

Response to Boryana Dumyanova Award,  February 24, 2008

Boryana Dumyanova was an overseas student at the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership who died tragically in a pedestrian accident in Somerville.   Her program established this honor in her name, and I was privileged to be the first recipient.

I want to express my deep gratitude to Sherman Teichman, Marcy Murninghan, Bruce Male, Hannah Flamm, and all the faculty and students here at Tufts. Thank all of you for coming. It is a deep honor and a balm to my soul to be the recipient of the Boryana Dumyanova Award.

Ten days ago I had the privilege of attending the Third Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the United Nations. I would never have believed that such an event could have taken place except that I saw it with my own eyes. Indeed, I imagined it in my own mind, long before it was a reality, in 2002.

Early on the morning after the meeting, I went for a swim in the pool on the 27th floor of the hotel. The sun was rising over the East River, behind UN headquarters, and the light flooded through the glass and made the water around me glow.

I thought about what a peculiar privilege it was to be a mammal swimming in 280,000 pounds of warm water suspended three hundred feet above the ground.

I thought, as I do every day, about why we require so many human beings to live under inhuman conditions so that a so few of us can live in real comfort.

I thought, as I do every day, about how strange it is that we are willing, as a society, to pee such gigantic amounts of carbon dioxide into the swimming pool of our atmosphere. 

How could we imagine that such foul behavior would not wreck our earth, that it would not, if unchecked, destroy all but those wealthy and shameless enough to dodge the consequences of this collective folly?(1) 

We are taught — falsely — that we must accept injustice because of the physical limits of the earth. 

We accept — wrongly — that what is defines what will be. 

We think that we are confined by our material conditions, but I believe that we are mostly hemmed in by our lack of dreams. Too many people – big people, fancy people, powerful people — have entered the 21st century with 19th century buckets covering their heads. You must help them remove those buckets. That is what Bory would want you to do. You must push them to look at (2) the world we actually live in – and the world it could become. 

Take the field of clean energy. Five years ago, at the time of the first Institutional Investor Summit, few fiduciaries or money managers had even begun to consider whether the largest physical changes in the history of human civilization would have any impact on their portfolios. Their attitude was: we never had to think about it before, so we do we have to think about it now? 

Now investors worth $15 trillion (3) are beginning to examine the structural absurdity of what Al Gore correctly calls their “subprime carbon investments” and the immense financial opportunities that will arise as the world moves into mind-boggling new technologies. (4)

A McKinsey Global Institute report released last week estimates that the cost of achieving dramatic efficiencies in greenhouse emissions would be $170 billion a year globally. (5) This might seem like a large number until one remembers that this is about the same amount as the stimulus package passed at high speed, without hearings, by a panicky Congress. 

What transformations will be possible in the future? We will only find out if we dream the biggest possible dreams.

The United States, the United Nations, the Investor Summit, the swimming pool in the sky – all of these were realities that began as ideas. If there is one motto that I would like you to write down and to pin by your bedsides so that you see it every morning when you wake up, it is this: reality follows ideas. 

The Internet seemed huge and untamable until just ten years ago when two graduate students at Stanford wondered if it would be possible to index not just a few things, but everything. (6) Then we had Google.

When the discussion of hydrogen fuel cell cars first came up at the beginning of the decade, leaders and journalists scoffed at the idea of converting 120,000 gas stations at a potential cost of $1,000,000 each – 120 billion dollars! [7] Then we spent more than four times that amount — $500 billion and counting — on the war in Iraq.  [8]

What lies ahead? It depends on whether you can imagine swimming in the sky.

I believe you will see everyone’s individual genome on the Internet. Will that mean liberation from sickness or a harsh new regime of profit-driven discrimination that punishes the ill for their inherited disease? (9)

I believe that you will see the majority of the world’s population gain access not only to each other but to the entire intellectual genome of our species — in other words, education for everyone everywhere for free.

As we move to an entirely new energy economy, we will need to concentrate some power production in specific places, though we must remember that concentrated systems are always vulnerable to pollution and terrorism, corruption and collapse. We must also disperse new forms of energy and technology directly into the human communities that need it. 

When post-apartheid South Africa wanted to give telephone service to millions, they realized that they could skip laying phone lines and go straight to cellular. (10)

We see that kind of leap-frogging all around us. China is building 40 new cities in the next ten years and every single building in every city may have high-speed wireless Internet. (11) Those buildings could control their internal temperature the way in a similar manner to the way our brains control temperature in our bodies, creating a whole new universe of efficiency, savings, and prosperity. Or they could watch our every move.

One brilliant couple is designing phosphorescent cloth that absorbs sunlight during the day and releases it during the night. (12) With this there is no need for C02 emitting power plants or high voltage lines that cut through the rainforest. Do you need to read in the dark? Unfold the cloth. Do you want to go to sleep? Roll it up. (13)

Another group of scientists is tapping kinetic energy through a light knee brace that captures the forward motion of walking. Humans eat food created through sunlight, then translate that food into calories and movement. That movement, if captured in the brace, could create enough electricity to power cell phones or pace makers, or heat the body in cold climates, or run a small computer, even a small business. (14) 

A team of students responding to a $5,000 challenge from seem to have to solved the problem of transporting, filtering, and storing clean water for poor people through a cheap tricycle. The container is built into the frame of the trike. The pedaling power pushes the water through a filter and into a reservoir in front of the handlebars, where it can be stored away from contamination by larvae or bacteria – until the person needs to bike back for more. (15)

There are millions more such ideas imbedded in your minds and of those around you.

Will such inventions move us forward or backward? We will reverse poverty and climate change — or will we accelerate them? That depends on our mental and moral commitments – your mental and moral commitments.

Every one of you sitting here is harboring dozens of viruses that are being suppressed by your invisible immune systems. (16) If your invisible immune system failed, you would rapidly be covered, for example, by very visible warts. This suppression is an unconscious gift from our ancestors. Similarly, every day we make choices that support or suppress the moral immune systems of our society. 

Do we seek security – or do we seek justice? 

Do we blame – or do we forgive?

Do we live in anxiety – or do we love in freedom?

It will be up to you – and people like you — whether tomorrow’s inventions will be stolen by the cruel and the powerful — or employed to achieve prosperity and democracy for all.

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, recently told an interviewer that poverty exists because human beings have accepted — and continue to accept — the idea of poverty. “You create what you imagine,” he said. (17) 

Reality follows ideas.

In sum: most of the choices ahead will not be driven but what lies outside in the physical work, but what lives inside our hearts and spirits. 

If we become what we believe,   then what will you choose?


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The Rev. Dr. Robert Kinloch Massie ( is the founder of the Global Reporting Initiative (, the former executive director of Ceres (; and the one of the originators of the Investor Network on Climate Risk ( He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


1) Speech given by Dr. John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Professor of Earth and Planetary Science, Harvard University; Director, Woods Hole Research Institute; Chairman, American Academy for the Advancement of Science  – soon to be appointed President Obama’s chief science advisor – see




5) Diana Farrell, “The Case for Investing in Energy Productivity,” McKinsey Global Institute, released February 14, 2008 –

[6] Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, “The Anatomy of A Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, Stanford University 1998 – original paper still posted at




10) “Infrastructural Investment in Long-run Economic Growth: South Africa 1875-2001”. J.W. Fedderkea, P. Perkinsb and J.M. Luizb _aUniversity of Cape Town, South Africa_bUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa _Accepted 9 November 2005. Available online 5 April 2006. World Development Volume 34, Issue 6, June 2006 

11)“Cisco to network whole cities” by Kevin Allison in San Francisco, site; Dec 23, 2007 
“Cisco Systems, the world’s biggest maker of data networking equipment, plans to launch a business group, based in Bangalore, India, that will wire new buildings and even entirely new cities with state-of-the-art networking technology… China estimates it will need to build 40 cities over the next 10 years to accommodate migration of workers from the countryside.”

12) Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich of Kennedy Violich

13); for an interview with Sheila Kennedy about application and acceptance among Mexico’s Huichol populution, see



16); see many other Google references under “verruca” and “immune suppression”


Additional note: The title of the talk comes from the concluding paragraph of  Robert Kinloch Massie, Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years [New York: Nan Talese – Doubleday, 1998]

A Pre-election Post: Complacency Is The New Enemy

In Politics, Things I Wrote Before on January 1, 2009 at 11:56 am
An old posting from October 2008:

I wrote this soon after I joined Facebook and posted it there.  I also mailed it about two dozen friends.  I had the privilege of hearing back from two of the people I mentioned — Mike Dukakis and John Kerry — thanking me for writing it.  And several people told me that the piece motivated them (or friends of theirs) to go door-to-door in a swing state in the weeks before the election.

Complacency is the New Enemy
by Bob Massie
Whatever the polls may show, there is something ugly stirring under the surface of the American pond. The vitriolic and shameful language that has been flowing at Republican rallies and in campaign ads are signs of desperation and rage. These words are dangerous and troubling.  

What is even more troubling — in my view — is that now, in the final days of the campaign, too many people are taking their eyes off the prize.

I am worried that because of the rising polls many who favor a new direction for this nation and who want Barack Obama to become president are becoming complacent. 

Why do I think this? I am finding it harder to recruit people to go to New Hampshire, where a handful of votes once determined the outcome of a previous election and could do so again.

I am finding that many of our beloved friends at church and in other activist organizations seems blissfully content to pursue a normal schedule right up until the election. Many people in my community and around the country seem to be relaxing at exactly the wrong moment. 

Everyone seems confident that the odious attacks on Barack Obama about Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright or his middle name or his views on abortion will not work. They are being encouraged in this view by the press and the pundits.

But I know from experience that slander works. Just down the street from me, where I get my hair cut, there is a small business populated by solid, working class Democratic Americans — employees and customers — who remain rattled by the claim that Obama is a secret Muslim.

Indeed I am old enough to have seen preposterous lies achieve their awful ends in American politics – not once, but three times.

I remember thinking in 1988 when Michael Dukakis seemed comfortably ahead in the polls that the Willy Horton attacks were so patently revolting that they could not possibly affect the outcome of the election. 

I was wrong.

I remember thinking in 2000 that accusing of Al Gore of being a “liar” was an absurd distortion. I understood the some voters might not like Al Gore as much as I did and do, but surely a man who had worked faithfully for his country as a veteran, a congressman, a senator, a vice president — a man who understood more about policy and science than anyone ever to have held that office — surely he could not be dismissed simply as a “liar.”

I was wrong.

In the late summer of 2004 I was sitting at an outdoor seafood restaurant in Maine, and I found myself sitting next to a bunch of young white mothers sitting around a picnic table chatting as their half-dozen tow-headed children clammered for ketchup and french fries. To my astonishment as I was getting from my meal I overheard them telling each other that my friend John Kerry was a traitor. 

They were accusing a man who had been wounded three times in battle — who had turned his boat around in the midst of a firefight in order to pull a drowning Marine to safety as bullets whizzed by his head — of being a coward and a threat to the United States. These women were smugly reinforcing the lies they had heard in a Swift Boat ad, that were printed in a defamatory book on sale that week at Wal-Mart, and that were being repeated in thousands of television commercials funded by right-wing extremists around the country. 

I almost walked over and spoke to them. I had been to New Hampshire many times for this campaign. At the time these claims seemed as shocking and meritless as anything we are hearing from Sarah Palin’s depressing speeches today. Surely, I thought, such slander could not determine the outcome of this election. I told myself that speaking to them might reinforce, not alter, their views.

I was wrong.

Three times I did not believe that the American voting public would not be swayed by the flat-out lies that were being advanced about decent and patriotic candidates for the presidency.

And three times I was wrong. 

I don’t want to be wrong again. 

Nor do you.

So I am asking each of you individually: what are you doing to contribute to this victory? Not someone else. You. 

Barack Obama has done everything we could possibly have asked of him. He has behaved with poise, courage, tenacity, passion, and dignity. Now we must respond in kind.

I am sure he appreciates whatever you have done so far. But the past is over.

We are now talking about what you will do in the next 23 days. Call voters? Go to a swing state? Walk door to door and ask your fellow Americans, from your heart, for their support? 

Whatever you are planning to do, you must do more. You owe it to your country. 

Look at your calendar and cut out everything that is not essential to your livelihood and loved ones. 

Then get busy. Now.

I am sorry if you find this annoying. I am sorry if you don’t want to hear from me on e-mail or on the phone as I continue my calling. I will have four years to win back your favor if it all turns out all right. 

But if Obama loses, then you will find yourself, to use the Biblical phrase, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, grieving that you did not do more. I am trying to spare all of us from that misery.

Think of what will happen if between now and election day a) someone fires at Obama or b) someone shoots down a US airliner or c) blows up a school bus and then d) McCain wins and Palin becomes president. 

We must do everything possible to nail this victory down. We have moved past the point where we are discussing the merits of the candidates. This is now a referendum on our identity as a nation and on our own capacity and maturity as citizens. 

George W. Bush now has less than 100 days in office. When he departs, the worst presidency since Reconstruction (as the New Yorker put it) – and possibly since the beginning of the American Republic — will come to an end. What happens next is up to us. 

We must intensify the effort for the next three weeks and two days. 

Stop relaxing. Stop thinking this is someone else’s job. Stop thinking that you can rely on the efforts of others. The responsibility is squarely on you and me.

We need not only to win but to win by the widest possible margin so that the ugliness of this campaign is repudiated decisively and permanently. The people running McCain’s campaign – Davis, Schmidt, Rove, Eskew, and all of the ugly manipulators who somewhere along their moral development road shed the capacity for decency — must be considered toxic to all future campaigns and candidates.

If they win, we will sink into the cesspool of their kind of politics for the rest of our lives, because it will have been proven that their path is the path to victory.

Perhaps when this is all over and Obama has won a large victory you will be able to pat me on the back and smile at me and say — “you see, Bob, you were wrong.”

Three times I assumed the best, and I was mistaken. Now I have flipped and I am assuming despite the positive signs we are still in real danger. 

I am willing to be wrong again.

I am urging you, imploring you — and daring you — to prove that I am.

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