Ambivalent views on spy program

How do Massachusetts residents feel about the government surveillance program capable of gathering information on every phone call and Internet computer click made in the country?  Somewhere between ambivalent and uncomfortable. At least that is the early reaction to disclosure of the surveillance program among Bay State residents in a Boston Globe poll conducted a week after news of the domestic surveillance program was reported.

Forty percent of those surveyed opposed the program, while a quarter voiced support for it. More than a third said they either didn’t have enough information to form an opinion or were neutral on the issue.

Views did not differ significantly when the poll results were broken down by race; there was slightly more support for the surveillance effort among men (43 percent) than women (38 percent). An interesting divide emerges based on political affiliation, with independent voters the most strongly opposed (47 percent), followed by registered Republicans (41 percent).  Democrats, who often line up as the strongest supporters of civil liberties, expressed the least opposition to the surveillance effort (31 percent). But reaction to the domestic surveillance program has made for some odd bedfellows, with hardline libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul in league with liberal Democratic members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation and local ACLU director Carol Rose in decrying the program. Government officials have defended the program as a crucial component of the strategy to head off terrorist attacks before they occur.

One of the most forcefully put arguments in defense of the program has come from an unlikely voice. Though best known as the creator of the edgy HBO series The Wire, David Simon, who had a previous life as a journalist, dove into the surveillance controversy recently with a blog that has been ricocheting around the Internet.  

Simon writes that “for at least the last two presidential administrations, this kind of data collection has been a baseline logic of an American anti-terrorism effort that is effectively asked to find the needles before they are planted into haystacks, to prevent even such modest, grass-rooted conspiracies as the Boston Marathon Bombing before they occur.”

Simon, like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, thinks what we should fear far more than the widespread surveillance now taking place is the sort of blanket clamp-down on civil liberties that would result from another 9/11-scale attack. To some — who see exactly such a clamp-down in the current surveillance program — that argument may echo the old saw about having to kill the patient to save him. Simon says that might be true if there were evidence of widespread abuse of the snooping, which he says, as yet, there is not.

“But those planes really did hit those buildings,” he writes. “And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed, and ideologically-motivated enemy. And, for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks.”

                                                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

On Keller@Large, Secretary of State William Galvin talks about the upcoming special Senate election and his new position of being a heartbeat or an appointment away from the corner office now that the state is without a lieutenant governor.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua laid off cops and firefighters to balance the city’s budget, but the workforce at the city’s parking division has more than doubled. Criminal investigators are probing a sharp drop in revenue at the garage, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Item explores why auto insurance rates are higher in Lynn than surrounding communities.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies he stole Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring but says if it would help, he’ll buy Kraft a new bauble.

The Atlantic looks at the curious staying power of hard social conservatism in the GOP.

The New York Times digs into the Mitch McConnellRand Paul odd couple political bromance.

ELECTIONS

Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez spar at a lightly-attended forum in Roxbury.  The Cape Cod Times endorses Markey, saying that Gomez is “not quite ready for prime time.” Nate Silver, writing in the New York Times, says the odds of a GOP upset in the Senate race are slim. Markey sunk millions into turning a toxic dumping ground into an internet Xanadu, and thanks to the 2001 dot-com bust, his reward is this sharp-elbowed Herald piece.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Globe spotlights the travails of the long-term unemployed, including the cruel twist that the longer someone is out of work the less likely employers are to show interest in hiring him or her.

With state financial support, the Massachusetts-based life sciences industry prepares to tap into the new Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, the Globe reports.

Amazon gets into the fresh grocery business.

EDUCATION

Few children of illegal immigrants are taking advantage of a new state program allowing them to attend state universities at the in-state tuition cost, the Boston University Statehouse Program reports (via Lowell Sun).

Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School is a mess — and parents, alumni, and community residents are pushing the city to do something about it.

The New Bedford School Committee, which is planning to lay off 250 staffers, including 100 teachers to deal with budget cuts, says school closures are “on the table” as well.

HEALTH CARE

Boston Children’s Hospital will begin the world’s first hand transplant program for young patients.

TRANSPORTATION

The MetroWest Daily News looks at structurally deficient bridges in the region.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Every New England state except New Hampshire is joining an effort to import Canadian hydro-electricity, CommonWealth reports.

New York moves toward mandatory curbside composting. A similar program in Portland, Oregon cut landfill volumes by 44 percent, and allowed the city to scale back trash collection to every other week.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Howie Carr previews the big Whitey BulgerJohn Martorano reunion at the House of Pain today.

MEDIA

A federal judge has dismissed a subpoena served on a Brockton Enterprise reporter to identify his sources in a story he wrote about a lawsuit against a state mental health facility and ordered the doctor whose lawyer served the subpoena to pay the paper’s legal fees.

The Beat the Press panel looks at the “awkward” partnership between WCVB-TV and NStar in light of the coverage of the utility’s prominent place in the news these days between blackouts and CEO Tom May’s eye-popping salary.