From American Dream to “American Scream”

“Occupy” protesters with tents pitched in city parks and loud marches in scores of US cities have been beating a drum figuratively — and sometimes literally — about the economic angst Americans are feeling at a time when those at the very top are doing better than ever.

Long before anyone descended on Zuccotti Park in New York or Dewey Square in Boston, however, the fragile state of the middle class has been on our minds at MassINC and CommonWeath, where pursuit of the American Dream has, in many ways, been the defining issue of the work done by the think tank and magazine since our founding 15 years ago. Coinciding with our 15th anniversary, the fall issue of the magazine offers an in-depth look at the state of the American Dream, which, after taking the temperature of the times, we aptly renamed the “American Scream.”  

WGBH picked up on our work and partnered all this week with MassINC and CommonWealth on a series examining the state of American Dream in Massachsuetts.  On Greater Boston, the station continued its “Where We Live” series, highlighting Norwood, Chelsea, Attleboro, and Upton. MassINC research director Ben Forman joined the show to give his perspectives on most of the towns.

Meanwhile, on WGBH radio, the Emily Rooney Show featured discussions with four CommonWealth staff writers about stories they wrote for our “American Scream” issue.

Bruce Mohl discussed his feature story on income inequality in Massachusetts, noting that the top 10 percent of Bay State income earners take home about the same as the rest of the state put together, and that economic mobility is becoming more difficult. Michael Jonas discussed his article on the gender achievement gap in education, in which males are increasingly lagging at all levels, a pattern with troubling ripple effects on the stability of families and entire communities. Paul McMorrow talked about his look at the increasingly difficult-to-attain dream of home ownership. Jack Sullivan discussed the changing meaning of retirement. His story found that many seniors are cashing in on their homes or reentering the workforce to keep their heads above water.

Everyone has been asking exactly what the Occupy protesters want. CommonWealth’s “American Scream” issue and the WGBH series don’t pretend to answer that. But we dig pretty deeply into the issues that have people wondering what happened to the belief Americans have long had that better days are always ahead. 

                                                                                                                                        –CHRISTINA PRIGNANO


His recent hard-to-fathom predawn driving excursion that ended in a ditch on Interstate 190 may be the least of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s problems. The Globe reports this morning that Murray has extensive ties to Michael McLaughlin, the disgraced former director of the Chelsea Housing Authority who was pushed out of office when it was reported that he was being paid $360,000 a year and shielding a big chunk of it from public view.  

A developer looking to build a waterfront casino in New Bedford says the set-aside for a tribal license is unconstitutional and is calling on Gov. Deval Patrick to veto that before signing the bill. The casino land rush is on, and gambling interests are jocking  for position in Western Mass.

The Massachusetts House passes a bill banning parole for three-time violent felons, dropping Senate provisions on sentencing reform, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick and four members of his cabinet (economic development, education, energy and environmental affairs, and labor) schedule a nine-day trade mission to Chile and Brazil, the Lowell Sun reports.

George Roper, an assistant clerk in Suffolk County whose ties to the Bulger family were questioned by the Governor’s Council, won approval from the council for appointment as clerk-magistrate of Plymouth County Juvenile Court.

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas says state Democrats have given Republicans a ray of hope with their redistricting plan.

A Boston Herald editorial says the Legislature’s latest pension reform effort doesn’t go far enough.


The Globe weighs in on the controversy over former Boston city councilor Maureen Feeney quiet effort to gain appointment from her former colleagues to the lucrative city clerk’s position. Yesterday, CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas and Globe columnist Joan Vennochi both decried the patronage shenanigans.

Property values in Norton are down, but property tax rates are going up.


An Idaho man is charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama. He believed Obama to be the Antichrist, which gets Slate wondering, just how many presidents have been accused of being the Antichrist?

Occupy Wall Street vows to fight on, Time reports. Protesters in New York clash with police. Occupy Boston protesters march peacefully with no arrests are made, NECN reports. But trouble could be brewing: The nonprofit that manages the Rose Kennedy Greenway has asked the city to remove protesters from their Dewey Square encampment. Jim Braude interviews Holland & Knight attorney Dan Small on the differing legal approaches of Occupy protesters in Boston and New York. The Berkshire Eagle applauds Occupy Berkshires but says the movement is “going off the rails” in places like New York, Oakland, and San Francisco.  Mother Jones tracks journalists who have been arrested at the protests.

Sarah Palin takes to the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to promote a new anti-Congress book penned by one of her speechwriters.

The Bush tax cuts continue to ruin everything for everybody. Paul Krugman puts on his contrarian hat and argues that the supercommittee’s impending epic failure will actually be a good thing. Erskine Bowles, the former deficit reduction committee co-chairman, isn’t so sure. “If you haven’t thrown up yet, you’re getting ready to,” Bowles tells a group of boldface CEO’s.

The latest Gallup poll finds Congressional favorability has dropped to 13 percent, just a notch above Fidel Castro, the Washington Post reports.


Aides to the three governors who immediately preceded Mitt Romney (all of whom were Republicans) say they cannot recall any instance of staff members buying  hard drives from their state computers when leaving as 11 top Romney aides did in 2006 when he was gearing up for his 2008 presidential run.

Get ready for what looks like an ongoing series from Globe columnist Scot Lehigh on “Who seems more like a senator?”  Round one goes to Elizabeth Warren, with Scott Brown not even answering the opening bell.

I am woman, hear me roar: Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi takes on Herman Cain and promises to work on securing federal support for “reliable,” “high-quality” child care for American families.

Spotlight on the front-runner: A health care think tank founded by Newt Gingrich commanded annual dues of $200,000 from health insurers and other industry groups for access to the former speaker and other perks. Gingrich tells the Herald that the nomination will come down to a contest between Romney and himself. Joe Battenfeld says a Gingrich presidency is about as likely as a Windows 95 comeback. The Atlantic wonders, just what do GOP voters see in Gingrich, anyway?

Herman Cain’s political philosophy finds some support among African-Americans, but not as much as he would like.

Campaigns are using mobile technology firms like Pandora to make more narrowly targeted ad buys.


The American Spectator marks the inauspicious occasion of the US debt exceeding $15 trillion on Wednesday. But what’s really cool is the debt clock they link to.

While everyone focuses on the fact General Electric paid no taxes on its $14 billion profit from last year, somewhat overlooked was the fact the company’s tax return was 57,000 pages, which, along with the loopholes and deductions that reduced the tax liability, is reason to reform the tax code, says the Weekly Standard.

Thomas Hoenig, the former Kansas City Fed chief and frequent Ben Bernanke critic, will take charge of the FDIC.

Google wants to be the Internet’s Walmart.


A new report to be released today by The Boston Foundation sharply criticizes the state’s community colleges and calls for an overhaul of their governance, funding, and focus in order to improve a system beset by low graduation rates a lack of coordination among its 15 campuses. CommonWealth dug into many of these issues in this 2007 cover story.

A new Census report shows that foreign-born students are earning STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) at US colleges at a higher rate than native-born Americans. Via U.S. News & World Report.


Local voters are approving tax hikes for transit projects 70 percent of the time, Governing magazine reports.


Donations to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound surged last year.


Catherine Greig, the girlfriend of James “Whitey” Bulger, has filed a motion asking a judge to reconsider his denial of her bail request.

In the wake of the Penn State scandal, The Christian Science Monitor looks at state child abuse laws.

A lawyer for Onyango Obama, the uncle of President Obama who was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, plans to argue that Framingham police had no reason to stop him.


The Commendatore, the Godfather spoof performed by Mayor Tom Menino and a lookalike Don Chiofaro, is approaching 22,000 hits on YouTube. The bit was produced by MassINC and The Word Syndicate.

The American Journalism Review applauds the decision of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to run a full-page, front page editorial on the Penn State scandal.

Patch traffic jumps during local elections and hurricanes, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Dan Kennedy worries about two bills in Congress regarding copyright infringement that he says could threaten online freedom of speech and cause a number of Internet sites to shut down.

The Columbia Journalism Review looks at nonprofit news organizations’ troubles with the IRS. Commonwealth explored this issue in a recent article that looked at at how nonprofit news outlets are paying for their operations.