Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sean Ryan, Not Your Average Candidate

Pitching himself as "about as not fringe as you can get," Sean Ryan gave some hints about big doings in his campaign for an at-large City Council seat. For one, he is working toward a decisive fund-raising effort before the September 22nd primary. For another, his website will get a major rework any day now.

We sat for a chat Monday at JP's Ula Café. In his mens sana in corpore sano mode, he doesn't touch caffeine or booze. It was my first visit and I approve of Ula's Americanos; they don't stint on the espresso.

Neither here nor at Left Ahead! have we opened the large bag of 15 at-large candidates, including two incumbents, for four open seats. However, Ayanna Pressley and Andrew Kenneally had previously asked to present themselves. Being a political slut, of course, I agreed.

Who You Calling Fringe?

I've already carped about the blandness of the candidates' websites. Ryan kind of agrees, but with his own spin. As a libertarian coming from the left into his Ron-Paul friendly beliefs, he is free to select affinities without regard to party labels or stereotypes.

For one example, while I found Bill Trabucco's presentation to be odd at best, Ryan said he could work with someone like that, someone with what he sees as high "energy and spirit." He noted that the key power of the Council was of holding hearings and getting big issues before voters, sometimes leading to policy advances. He figures that will he and Trabucco may not have much in common in political views, they would certainly agree to have hearings on key issues to get such a process working.

I couldn't get to the June at-large candidate forum, but appreciated David Bernstein's notes over at Talking Politics. His comments about Ryan in the scrum coverage were:
Give him credit -- a Ron Paul libertarian pitching himself to Ward 5 Democrats, he could easily have caused serious eyeball-rolling injuries every time he opened his mouth. I doubt that many in the room were buying what he's selling, but he acquitted himself well presenting himself and his views.
Left to his own devices — one on one or on his more monetary-policy related website, Ryan has extremely strong views on government and economics. While most of the at-large candidates pussy foot around calling for safer streets and uniformly improved public schools, he's pretty sure we're all doomed economically. To Ryan, the collapse of our economy as we know it is the only catharsis that will let us right the nation.

That's more than a hard sell though. Most people can't and don't want to think in those terms. In short-term, practical implications for this race, explaining why he believes that is complex, not the proverbial 30-second elevator speech.

Bite Sized

Ryan has a highly varied and unusual résumé, including classical musician/conductor, pedi-cab operator and Fenway hot dog vendor. Yet, he is prouder of his formal education and more of his self-taught economics (Austrian school his specialty).

Listening to him and poring over his campaign and economy-centric sites, leaps are tempting.

His economic and governmental messages are not only out of the common beliefs of Americans, they are relatively complex. As a result, his existing sites have many single-spaced pages expanding on the concepts and forecasts. Similarly, oral versions at front doors and on stages could stun many voters with their details.

Ryan is well aware of the need to announce his principles without overwhelming though. His pending revamped campaign site will be a major part of that effort, he told me. He has brought on a young pro at this, Corie Whalen. While only a senior at Simmons here, she has 1) raised a ton of bucks for Ron Paul, 2) organized the first of the series of Tea Parties that went national, and 3) designed or redesigned the web presences of several candidates.

As is often the case, outsiders to libertarianism might be surprised that Whalen came from the right and Ryan from to left to this ism. Yet, they have sufficient overlap on principles and issues that they don't conflict. For example, they agree that government is too large, powerful and intrusive (Ryan wants to kill the Federal Reserve System and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, for two).

Ryan says she will help him focus his platform on key issues and present those in more manageable chunks. As policy director, Whalen "will rework the website," he says. "My principles will remain, but we'll concentrate on schools. That's something everyone cares about here."

During our chat, Ryan broke a bit as he got excited about economics, seemingly a great passion for him. He tries to stay on message and keep it simple, but he is a geyser of research and opinions. For example, he is one who figures that within two years "our whole system is going to collapse."

He also pointed me to broker Peter Schiff's predictions as discussed in YouTube videos. Ryan is likewise convinced that a collapse would be a net good and the catalyst to clean up our economic, regulatory and governmental messes.

He says he does not overload voters with his ideas and beliefs. Instead, "I can explain my positions in three or four minutes" on a stoop or stage, he says. We should see that in the new website.

Earning a Chair

Ryan does not seem at all daunted by the crowded race or by explaining his platform planks or by raising enough money for the double primary/general election push.

The more stereotypical Irish-American pol is certainly someone like Councilor Michael Flaherty, stepping down to run against Mayor Tom Menino this time. Good sized and effusive, he can dominate a room. In contrast, Ryan looks like the classical musician he trained to be. He fits that physical stereotype as slender, soft-spoken and alertly attentive to anyone before him. Down to his tiny silver earring, he remains about content instead of display.

Whalen is supposed to help with the presentation part, but also the fund-raising. Ryan was coy about what is money strategies are. He is well aware that he needs money now and for a final push, assuming he is one of the eight who get through the primary filter to the general.

He isn't looking for grand schemes of broadcast and print advertising. However, he wants very targeted mailings, such as to all of Southie. Also, he believes in yard signs — "I want to have as many signs as any top tier candidate."

He says he set "very ambitious" fund-raising goals for September 1st, which he must meet to stay in competitive. He is looking to Whalen for help here too. He laughingly calls her "a female Karl Rove without the neo-con aspect."

Irritations

For his part, he speaks to anyone and everyone, voter by voter, civic groups, public meetings, debates, and fora. Here, he has mixed successes.

Unlike Pressley, he is not the darling of the Globe or major unions. Someone with such strong beliefs understandably finds that irritating. He notes for example that the major daily has run two large stories on the at-large race without mentioning him. In particular, the recent cover piece on the Sunday magazine there looked and read like a campaign ad for Pressley and discussed almost exclusively its subject, the African-American candidates for Council.

Likewise, he hasn't made inroads with unions, even the Boston Teachers Union. He's big on education, went through the Boston schools and his mother has had a career as school nurse in town. He thought his strong education platform would cut it, but it may have run afoul of his calls for more charter schools and school vouchers that let the money follow the child.

Likewise for the media, he is disturbed by more than being ignored in some articles. He, accurately I think, notes that broadcast and print media analyze little about this race. They may get better after the primary, but meanwhile, candidates can say little or contradict themselves from speech to speech or from what their websites and literature say with impunity. Instead, he says, the media (media) should be pointing out where candidates are saying something different than they did before."

That's all true enough. I can't necessarily take the high road. I haven't done in-depth analysis of campaign sites and literature. I wasn't even able to get to the big at-large forum in June. Bloggers may not be doing a much better job than MSM.

Such disappointments irritate but do not stop Ryan. He is forever mulling larger concerns, like a government "that has gotten too big to control and too big to be accountable." Starting with the Fed, but not limited to it, he wants to drive awareness of limiting state and federal government. As he puts it, "You can't pick and choose where you want the government to be totalitarian."

Whether that is fringe to some and a different way of thinking to many, that attitude has certainly produced more defined and stronger positions for Ryan than most in the race.

Over at Neighborhood Network News, the wise and gentle Chris Lovett explored some of Ryan's diverse jobs and his goals, starting with education. Ryan has posted the 11-plus minutes from the June 9th interview on his site here. Lovett did ask a key question as part of that — with these overarching national and international concerns, how do those factor into the role of a city councilor. Specifically at about 3:17 in part one, Ryan riffs on how monetary policy would relate to the job.

He didn't get to ask the what-if about the possibility of Ryan losing in one of the two pending elections. Ryan says he is too focused on the current challenges to dwell on that. However, he's a thoughtful sort who returned to that.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that he has a non-traditional as well as expected take on that. If he remains here, he would intend a political career based in Boston. However, as he put it, "if we go over completely to socialism," he would consider a move to China. That may seem antithetical to a libertarian, who of course is deeply into freedoms.

To him, that kind of move makes sense. He said that "leftists have too much trust in government." Instead, he declared that "without economic freedom, personal freedoms don't mean anything." He added that China was headed toward more economic freedom than our tightly controlled economy.

Meanwhile, I'll be fascinated to see how well:
  • He can focus his positions and communicate them
  • His relatively complex planks play against the generalizations of most candidates
  • His fund-raising efforts work
  • He fares in polls and the plebiscites pending

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Sixty Seats...So What?

The disingenuous and specious wingers seem to be humming and looking skyward. Behold, mortals, Democrats got their big bag of magic in the form of a 60-seat Senate majority, and nothing changed.

A common ploy has long been to claim that if Dems have a solid majority, in a state or Congress, there's no stopping them. The monolith pinko wall will crush restraint and reason. Therefore, the wingers are wont to say, voters absolutely must keep a strong contingent of their ilk as balance.

Excuse me while I snort.

The reality is that between blue-dog Democrats and DINOs, the opposition is inherent in the system. We see that in many ways and very plainly in the inability of President Barack Obama to drive his health-care reform to completion. Over at this morning's FT, Clive Crook put it well enough, with, "If health reform does go down to defeat, it will not be because of Republican opposition, but because of dissenting conservative Democrats and disaffected moderates in the country at large."

Republicans really need a better argument than the absolute tally sheet. Americans aren't buying their ragged proposals and proclamations. It's time we all took note at this moment. Sixty seats in the Senate...yup...so?

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Light Posting Conitinues

This blog will have fewer than normal posts for the next two or three weeks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Content-Free Campaigning: 2 of 2

Boston's elections have more than the fun mayor's race. The heavily contested at-large city council one has more players, but fewer well-defined problem/solution sets.

Looking at the two candidates I spoke with at length, Ayanna Pressley and Andrew Kenneally, I think both are highly likely to survive the September 22nd primary. Then they'll have to be decisive in their public appearances to win on November 3rd.

For their websites, neither will be taught in political science or communications classes as they are now. I admit it unreasonable to expect a councilor candidate to have a voter-converting site though.

Part 1 of this post looks at the larger group of candidates for the at-large contest.

Does Online Matter?


A big question rises about how important web presence is. I'm both policy wonky and tech geeky, so a powerful and definitive website is very important to me, but I don't believe that most voters think that way. A small minority are regular blog readers, a startling number have trouble with search engines to the point they don't bother, and it's safe to assert that the vast majority of those with internet at home or work don't use it routinely to remain politically astute and aware.

Yet for the pathetic minority of us, websites may well be key deciding factors in whom to vote for in September and November here. Candidates largely know that and try to cover that base. In addition, both Pressley and Kenneally use Facebook and social media. In terms of FB, Pressley's presence is LITE and twitter ready — short and smiley. Kenneally's FB pages are a lot beefier, with many more supporters and a lot of comments and interaction. Yet, they are within striking distance of each other and ahead of most other candidates.

The websites themselves are in the upper tier for this race, but still annoy me. I want real platforms with solid proposals. As a disclaimer, I advised Kenneally to do so and in my report on Pressley's chat, I noted the shortcoming. Yet, I am aware that they, not I, are the candidates and ones risking while I just jaw and type.

Pressley uses the whom-I-know ploy much more than the what-I've-done one. Her site associates her with both Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kerry and doesn't even bother with a RECORD or ACCOMPLISHMENTS tab. Its ISSUES area has three:
  • Education. Support teachers. Make schools safe. Involve parents. She offers no proposals.
  • Housing. Provide affordable options. Somehow (unspecified) protect renters from foreclosures. Somehow (unspecified) enable community organizations to convert foreclosures into affordable housing.
  • Crime. Get ideas on what to do from those in tough neighborhoods. Reform CORI regulations. Commit ourselves to public safety.
  • Constituent Services. She'd do pretty much with other councilors already do (and Kerry does) in assigning neighborhoods to specific staff members. They'll liaise like good liaisons.
At several points she also confronts the personal history of a junkie father who was convicted and in prison several times. She notes with some credibility that this sensitizes her to such problems in the larger community she wants to serve and that it would inform her thinking as councilor.

Kenneally's site is the same and different. Similarities include association with well-known local pols. While he worked in D.C. for U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley, people will perk up more to know he was ex-Councilor Maura Hennigan's chief of staff and Councilor Michael Flaherty's director of policy and communications. Pressley's insinuation that knowing Kerry will help the city is less solid than Kenneally's statements that he learned the players and procedures of counci from two long-term Boston pros.

Like Pressley, Kenneally can't honestly claim to have held the post or any similar elected office. Yet in his RECORD section, he lists a long series of areas from education through technology where he researched, analyzed and proposed solutions for major and minor problems. That's what a good to great councilor needs to do or have done for him.

He can't yet be sure that voters will click around his site and find both his associations with Congress and the council. He also can't be sure they will consider the bio and record info together and extrapolate his potential from them. The information is there, but it is like a four-piece jigsaw puzzle; it is easy to solve but requires assembly, by one voter at a time.

Pressley seems to think that her association as an aide to a U.S. Senator will translate in voters' minds into local competence. Kerry's office will have little if any impact in home-rule at the state level or other council operations in Boston. Yet, he is known and generally liked here. Wearing his figurative team jacket can't hurt.

Amusingly though, Pressley does not seem to have analyzed a lot of web presences. As evidence, consider a post at Blue Mass Group under her name.
This week we launched a new and greatly improved ayannapressley.com. Our website is a reflection of the campaign we are running and the type of City Councilor I strive to be. This site is dedicated to giving voters like you easy access to this groundbreaking campaign with interactive tools ranging from signing up to "Go Green" - which allows environmentally conscious voters to go paperless by only receiving emails from the campaign, to our "Share Your Thoughts" and "Ayanna Action" sections.
That reads like a different website that I see there. While few of us expect whiz-bang web works from a city office candidate, she is the only one to claim any miracles. There really isn't any wow factor there.

I shall certainly pay attention to the primary and try to figure how important whom they know becomes in the result. Most of the candidates can't play that card.

As described in the Kenneth Cooper cover piece of Sunday's Boston Globe maggy, this is an unusual contest, with multiple candidates of color, including four African Americans. The daily continues not so subtly to favor Pressley here, giving her a gigantic picture in the lead spread, relegating the three black men to one-third page images in a row inside. It then slathers the lead spread with her and about her.

Praise for What?


That seems to work elsewhere too. She's gotten the most endorsements, which so far are largely from unions and from black pols. Of course, the published endorses tend not to reflect the platform and planks Pressley doesn't display. She fills some groups' check boxes, like she's black and a female. Others are impressed by Kennedy (Joseph) and Kerry connections.

For example:
  • From her website endorsement section, political consultant Joyce Ferriabough, "I can't tell you how thrilled I am that my friend and sister Ayanna Pressley is running for City Council at large. I've been trying to convince her to run for years because I know firsthand the kind of commitment, passion and dedication she brings to public service and to the people of Boston because of her outstanding work for Congressman Kennedy and Senator Kerry. "
  • Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, "The perspective she will bring to the Council as a woman of color is tremendously important, and one that the Boston City Council, in its 100 year history, has never had. Ayanna has great political and constituent service experience and knows this landscape well."
  • From the Mass Women's Political Caucus (MWPC) website, Executive Director Sheila Capone-Wulsin, "Ayanna will bring a unique voice and skillset to the Boston City Council. Many of us are familiar with her exemplary, collaborative approach and can-do style in connecting the residents of Boston and the state to resources and services, as an Aide to former Congressman Joseph Kennedy and Senator John Kerry... In addition, she would be the first woman of color ever to serve and only the third woman elected at-large in the Council's 100 year history."
Her endorsements speak grandly of her concerns for women, working families and so forth. None goes to why being aware of and caring about those would translate into ideas, action and results. Yet that is largely true of the whole at-large field.

At one extreme, a few have very little content on their sites. Trabucco is somewhere else with a panacea type of site that seems like a Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap label. Most are similar to Pressley's in naming problem areas but providing only broad generalizations of where to turn to for correction.

Really only Ego Ezedi's platform looks thought through. He offers a limited set of concern areas, but each has specific approaches and steps toward improvement or solution. The page looks like he thinks like a councilor and reflects his managerial experience running the Roxbury Y. If he can get other councilors and the mayor to buy into his ideas, he'd be a productive councilor.

According to David Bernstein at Talking Politics, Ezedi is not yet in the fund-raising mix. The two incumbents are way ahead, with Arroyo, Kenneally and Pressley in contention. There probably is no relationship between platform-creation/good idea capability and fund-raising skills. Both together would be ideal, but separate campaign managers and money people are the norm in such races for reasons. Just as a good elected official hires and uses great staff, making things happen tend to be different skills from formulating the policies.

Both Deval Patrick and Barack Obama campaigned in part on that new ideal of being change agents. That includes getting disparate groups to cooperate on common goals. That also looks to get public buy-in by soliciting opinion and more important, by acting on those suggestions to give the voters a sense of ownership of the office and politician.

I'll watch to see how much Boston voters are willing to accept an extreme of such a spongy position. Will they accept Pressley's claims that she can accomplish (the unspecified) whatever by finding out what the people want and getting her peers behind her to make it happen?

Moreover, the council is far from as black as the city and far from as female. For those who want balance, would it be enough to go for the pretty woman, who worked for John Kerry for a decade, or would a more specific and articulate black or Latino male be more enticing?

Finally, when roughly half the candidates fall aside at the primary, will the end-game strategy require reworks of speeches, online information, and debating postures? I think the answer to that is that it will be an entirely different game when it's likely six primary winners will scramble and scratch for the two seats that won't go to the incumbents.

It's probable that late September through October will find much more clearly defined at-large candidates. They'll call out each other orally, in print and electronically on generalities and ill-defined goals. They'll be one upping left, right and from behind. For us observers, that could be a very fun six weeks or so.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Content-Free Campaigning


A couple of months into the at-large city council campaign, the stampede of candidates is showing little revealing or exciting. Considering that the bland and LITE platforms are earning some endorsements, that may be the workable strategy for the primary.

Who can say how accurate the adage was that in New York it's what you own, in Philadelphia it's who you know, but in Boston it's what you know that determines your success and status. We seem to have become Philly North.

When Deval Patrick ran for governor, he clearly distinguished himself from announced and potential contenders early. His platform was wide and astoundingly specific. He put it up there for others to pick and niggle and refute and ridicule. That confidence, courage and preparation got my attention and respect.

In contrast, most candidates for most offices wait to see and wait to say. They often take the most cowardly path of saying they'll ask the voters what they want them to do, think and say. That is the antithesis of leadership. The idea seems to be a feel-good ploy to pretend that innovation and leadership will arise from status-quo loving.

Yet, in this at-large race another cliché doesn't seem to hold. Rather than nothing ventured, nothing gained, the motto for the council primary is more like the turtle who sticks his neck out gets his head cut off.

Listening to the candidates' stump speeches or their forum comments does not send a voter away with a platform and proposals list. Even their websites generally provide, well, generalities. For the latter, I may still analyze the sites in detail, but only the two incumbents' ones are very beefy.

I'll deal a bit with the sites of the two candidates who sought me out and chatted with me, Ayanna Pressley and Andrew Kenneally. For the others, check for yourself, but we aware that they range from the next to nothing (Robert Fortes), to the carnival poster of populism (Bill Trabucco), to a little bit for everyone (Doug Bennett), and to non-specific platitudes like the youth are our future, housing should be affordable and people should feel safe (Felix Arroyo, Tito Jackson and several others).

This timid and vague strategy might even be the right one, at least for the primary. Not everyone is or can be innovative and brilliant. For the September 22nd primary, the eight of fifteen who go on to the November 3rd general do not need to sweep the field.

Musical Chairs


Come November, it will likely be six candidates playing political chairs for two seats. Incumbents John Connolly and Stephen Murphy have considerable recognition and advantage for two of the four at-large spots. Smiles and platitudes won't be as powerful to most voters as that pair of candidates can simply repeat that they do the job now and have a record of constituent services already.

Whether it's detergents or politicians, our choices are too often among me-too ones. As much as we'd like clear distinctions to help us, too often we are left to figure out how one is at all dissimilar from the others. In the case of pols, that tends to leave us with their looks and associations in the early stages.

We like to pretend we are above such petty concerns as appearance. However, if everything else seems nearly identical, we would rather look at the handsome man or pretty woman. On the other hand, hard-to-look-at folk from Richard Nixon to our own Councilor Chuck Turner won their offices in plebiscites.

It's the who-you-know factor that is in play for the at-large race. We saw that last month in the special election for the 3rd Suffolk seat. Aaron Michlewitz successfully parlayed his Sal DiMasi connections into that office. On the face of it, he could say that as the ex-speaker's constituent-services director he did the job in all but title. In reality though, he clearly benefited from whom he knew — all in Sal's former orbit. That was savvy and successful.

Likewise, the two candidates I have sat with, Kenneally and Pressley, would each like to do a Michlewitz. Each has associations with successful and well known pols. Both want voters to figure 1) they have contacts that will help them as councilor, 2) they learned how to get things done at the feet of the pros, and 3) the accomplishments of their bosses were in smaller or larger parts their doing.

That kind of extrapolation can be a bit tricky. It would help considerably if their former bosses would do the near impossible for a politician — say their their proteges and not themselves did the work and are due the credit. At the least, the old bosses would help mightily with ringing, unequivocal endorsements.

In Pressley's case, that would be our U.S. Sen. John Kerry and for Kenneally, past Councilor Maura Hennigan and current Councilor Michael Flaherty. So far, their former mentors wish them well and even occasionally speak kindly of their abilities...no farther...yet.

Part 2 of this post hits a bit on candidate websites and the possible final campaign push.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Bolstering the Banner

Let us chuckle over the outcry at Boston Mayor Tom Menino's offer to lend (not give) the town's black-owned newspaper money to keep it temporarily in business. In an environment of slavishly boosterism by nearly all other weeklies and the dailies, a range of folk have free-press indignation.

Over at one of my favorite spots, Universal Hub, the headline on this runs, "BRA loan to Bay State Banner: Hush money?" It links to the Globe piece on the proposed loan. Also, most of the comments are what a terrible idea this is. Likewise, Massachusetts Liberal blogs about what to him is a conflict of interest.

Prima facie, there is a whiff of impropriety. There's nothing generating any smell though. Consider:
  • The loan would be to give Banner Publisher Melvin Miller time to arrange long-range financing or sell it.
  • The money is in a fund administered through the Boston Redevelopment Administration, but is certainly not his, nor the city's, nor the BRA's.
  • The cash would come from the Boston Local Development Corporation. This has lent similarly to many small businesses, mostly woman or minority owned. Some get more than the proposed $200,000 for the Banner.
Absent the media factor, the Banner is the sort of local business that this fund has helped for years. Throw in the newspaper angle though and folk around here are understandably exercised.

Much, too much I think, has been made of Miller's April 16th editorial slamming Da Mare. It was harsh, unusually so for a paper whose opinion pieces tend more toward warnings to its readers to get their act together to dine at the capitalist table.

Miller was (livid is not a good word) fulminating over Menino's drive to remove the Emma Lewis Partners LLC as developers of a BRA parcel near police HQ. She was justifiably revered in the local black community, so her name on the project was a memorial as well as realty deal.

The editorial concluded, "After the Elma Lewis decision, no self-respecting African American can vote for Menino if he chooses to run again. It is time for Menino to step down so that he will be remembered for his many achievements. " Also, the rest of the piece was as nasty — he'll appoint black women but not black men, and he ignores African-American activists and pols.

Droopy cartoonBoston political legend is that Menino is far too prickly to take such criticism. That seemed to have been his record. Yet, I was repeatedly surprised four years ago when Councilor Maura Hennigan ran a down-and-dirty campaign against him that he kept his Droopy dog demeanor. Moreover, at Left Ahead! he joined us for a podcast and seemed likewise unflappable. I think he's aged well.

I see no indication that he is angry at Miller and the Banner, nor that he wants to buy their loyalty, even from such a remove. What is strange is all the suggestions of impropriety here.

The Banner is an important voice. It's disappointing but not surprising that the Miller family was one of many publishing groups unable to anticipate and adjust to the changes in technology and economy that has driven so many out of business.

However, this is different and personal. I'll note here for those who are not regular readers that I used to be editor-in-chief of the black weekly for Columbia, South Carolina, the state capital. There as here, the local daily and weeklies did not cover the black community well or at all beyond crime stories. There is a real, continuing need for the Banner here.

Also, the Banner's editorials are not the biggest factor in this from any angle. The reporting and analysis of the local and government news are.

In fact, Miller's pieces are often pretty old-fashioned and socially conservative. They tend to favor the personal responsibility and bootstraps lingo popular with the NAACP a couple of decades ago. While Miller has recently criticized that organization for not keeping up with the times, that's amusing coming from him.

You can check the Banner archives for their editorials and matching (terribly drawn) cartoons. I grabbed a couple to illustrate:
  • January 8th, A major strategy for the future is to mobilize the black community around the importance of education so intently that more students will become academically qualified for the more sophisticated jobs. It must also be a national policy to bring much of the manufacturing capacity back to America.
  • March 5th, Despite the surviving vestiges of bigotry, Obama’s election as the nation’s 44th president offers an extraordinary lesson. Talent, hard work, discipline and a well-conceived plan can overcome racial discrimination. It is now more advisable to be the best at what you do than to worry about the racial hostility of others.
  • July 9th, The real message for African Americans from the New Haven firefighters case (Ricci v. DeStefano, et. al.) is that it is time to become more aggressively competitive. Be aware that an action favoring blacks is perforce an inconvenience to others. If remedial action is generally considered to be unfair to whites, then it will harm public support for affirmative action.
Literary aside: Miller self-publishes How to Get Rich When You Ain't Got Nothing.
I think Miller is more conservative than Menino and much more so than I. He had one that seriously lambasted the Mayor, really not much for a weekly. I can't see that motivating any reprisals or purchases of favor.

I say this proposed loan is at least two arms' lengths away from dirty. It's a loan, not a gift and would come with only financial strings. The aims are to keep local jobs as well as the voice for a local community. If it's useful for those purposes, it looks clean enough.

Saturday Update: Miller said, "Only a fool wouldn't take it," reports today's Globe. He also said he hadn't met with the administration to get the loan offer and that it wouldn't compromise the paper.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Maine-ly Store Bought

Perhaps the effort to overturn legal same-sex marriage in Maine is really a hidden jobs stimulus. Unfortunately, much of the money raised by the anti-equality side comes from and is paid to out-of-staters.

The anti-gay types have often claimed, falsely or truly, that Equality Maine gets its money from dreadful and distance places like Massachusetts. Apparently, getting their money from New Jersey and such is OK. Huh?

The bluebird-bearing Turn Maine Blue blog has been doing a nice job reporting developments here. For example:
The Portland Press-Herald continues its coverage as well. Today's piece tracks and specifies the money raised so far on both sides. By the bye, it stands at $343,000-plus reported by the anti-equality side and only $138,640 for the pro-equality folk. The veto side includes $160,000 from the National Organization for Marriage (basically a wash for the bought signatures), $100,000 from the Portland R.C. diocese, plus $50,000 from the Knights of Columbus.

The article gets a guess from the two sides that this campaign will waste cost $4 million to $6 million. I suspect Mainers could use that amount much better than trying to hurt or defend one minority group.

Maine Freedom to Marry takes contributions here.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bill Clinton Now Pro-SSM


Former President William Jefferson Clinton spoke out publicly for same-sex marriage a few days ago. I have long villainized him for the Defense of Marriage Act. I'm willing to stop, so long as he urges the current President to lead dumping DOMA.
Tip of the toupee: To Pam's House Blend. I hadn't read my copy of The Nation.
In The Nation, Michael Tracey reports that Clinton's remarks came on July 8th, after he spoke to the Campus Progress National Conference in D.C. Word is:
Asked if he personally supported same-sex marriage, Clinton replied, "Yeah." "I personally support people doing what they want to do," Clinton said. "I think it's wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that [same-sex marriage]."
That doesn't repeal any or all of DOMA by itself. However, it goes a long way intellectually and emotionally toward pressuring Barack Obama. When the current President knows how much this former one has evolved, perhaps he can screw up the courage to fulfill that campaign promise to overturn DOMA. He might even 'fess up that he too wants marriage equality.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

MBTA Starved For Good Sense

Sure, let's do it again. There is a cure for the T's money problems. It is a huge and painful cure, but it's been plain to all for many years.

I've called for it repeatedly. Yet, General Manager Dan Grabauskas doesn't have the smarts or courage or both to demand it. The legislature pretends to know nothing about it and who knows why our Gov. Deval Patrick won't be straight about it.

For those on Beacon Hill who see the obvious, it appears they live in a fantasy. They want the problem to fix itself. The only way that can happen would be a sudden and thorough reversal of our economic woes of the past decade. If our economy were to blossom to its best self and remain growing, only then would the sales tax revenue fulfill its part of the bargain the legislature struck.

Fat chance.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the lawmakers made what is absolutely one of the worst decisions ever. As complicated and distasteful as it would be to deal it, the General Court must.

The idea of public transit that pays its own way was at the heart of the original legislation. When the sort-sighted legislature set up the deal dependent on sale-tax revenue, it may have had the best of intentions. Yet, like so much in the past decade, the realities have changed and the rules must change to reflect that.

We can remind both Gov. Patrick and both houses that we have multiple crises here. We have aims and mandates that include:
  • Reducing petroleum use
  • Fewer polluting vehicles onour streets
  • Less traffic noise and congestion
  • Frequent, clean, safe and efficient mass transit
  • T service from where people live to where they work
  • Mass transit that is too convenient and economical not to take instead of cars
We subsidize motor vehicle use heavily. Some such gifts are obvious — road construction and maintenance, and highway patrols, for a few. Others are more subtle — tax-free land use for vehicles and the mechanical and human costs of collisions, for example. Still others have become real more recently — consider pollution and its effects on human health and wasted energy (and human time).

Some anti-mass transit folk love to select subsets of data to suggest that car and truck subsidies are more efficient than paying for intracity and intercity transit. Even doing their worst, they can't obscure that the goals of replacing car travel with T and bike and foot traffic are well worth the costs in total. Like other civilized nations and cities, we have to get with the program on this.

We can't get there if we cripple the T and make riding it expensive and unpleasant. We need to pony up, great recession or not.

The big, messy fact is that the legislature blew the T debt. It has to fix the T debt. It corrects legislative errors all the time. This boner is just far worse than average. Hiding from it won't solve anything.

Amusingly, today's Boston Globe lead editorial is yet another gormless commentary around this problem. It does note, "Nearly a third of the T’s operating budget goes to paying debt - a proportion that gives the agency little maneuvering room in bad times." Yet, it doesn't even propose or apparently address the only underlying issue — that the stupidly constructed debt is exactly the problem.

The legislature created the problem. The legislature must fix it. Surely there is at least one leader on Beacon Hill who can drive this, one who has the wit and guts .

For my part, I have been drawing attention to this at Marry in Massachusetts frequently, Blue Mass Group on occasion, and public transit hearings. I'm not the only one. I pound on forward-funding.

My mid-term vision would be a free-for-all-riders T here to reach our transit and health goals quickly. That even brought qualified support from former Gov. Michael Dukakis. He figured a buck a ride is more workable, but he and I concur on the basic need and process.

The main facts are that our car commute and visit system is terribly broken, as well as that the General Court made a huge blunder with forward funding tied to sales-tax growth. The law part they need to fix right away. The rest will come when the T — under new, clearly seeing management — is reliable, convenient and inexpensive enough to be the default 24-hour-a-day mode of getting into, out of and around.

Gov. Patrick, transit-minded Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and the legislature, get with the program. Get honest. Get responsible.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Local Law Strokes Fairey's Wrist

The free spirited draftsman disguised and self-packaged as an artist, Shepard Fairey walks among us again. Lackaday, he can no longer carry wheat paste in Boston...for two years at least.

After another overblown display by the local constabulary and prosecutors, we were back to where we (and I specifically) predicted in March. He pleaded guilty to a couple of graffiti-related charges, the others disappeared, and he paid a $2,000 fine.

That's what should have been done at the time and he was willing. Instead, true property destruction continued unabated by others, to say nothing of violence. It was a classic Boston moment, reminiscent of the Mooninites. It's good theater; I just wish it wasn't the kind of comedy that keeps the rest of the country chuckling at us.

Over at the Herald, the usual suspects did not waste any time calling for his long-term jailing. So far, there haven't been any calls for castration or corporal punishment, but it's early yet.

As the other daily puts it, the punishment for the California resident is:
..a plea deal that will prohibit him from carrying stickers, posters, wheat paste, brushes, and other tools of the graffiti trade while in Suffolk County for the next two years. Under the arrangement, Fairey pleaded guilty to three vandalism charges and must pay a $2,000 fine to one of his adversaries, Graffiti NABBers for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

In a statement, Fairey apologized to the citizens of Boston for "posting my art in unauthorized spaces without the consent of the owner."

In other words, the rich commercial artist who might have no plans or reason to be here for the next decade is out $2,000. We have every cause to believe that the hoo-ha our civic protectors caused has generated many times that in poster, print and clothing sales. It's the local prosecutors who should have cut a plea bargain — for a percentage of sales.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

DOMA Suit Surprisingly Solid

Our AG Martha Coakley brings tomorrow into the present. In Gone with the Wind's fictional world, the original fiddle-dee-dee gal was Scarlet O'Hara, epitomized in her "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

Until today, I have never been a fan of Massachusetts attorneys general. Don't get me started on their lack of courage or decisiveness. However, Coakley's suit in federal court seeking relief from the effects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a masterwork.
References: The suit (PDF file) is here. A transcript (RTF file) of Coakley's announcement is here. Page citations in comments refer to the suit.
The overview is that for Massachusetts, Coakley charges that:
  • Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because it defines marriage federally and interferes with states' established rights to do so.
  • Article One, Section 8, Clauses 1 (the spending clause) forces Massachusetts to violate either DOMA's effects or its own equal-treatment laws.
  • DOMA sets up two distinct, unequal classes of married couple and is thus unconstitutional.
What the suit does not do is mess with DOMA Seciton 2, which lets states continue to discriminate against marriages in other states that would not be legally solemnized there. In fact, the suit pushes the comity and full-faith-and-credit clause to its most basic states' right grounding. The suit forces nothing on anyone and in effect demands the same from the feds.

For those of us on the marriage equality side, there are numerous legal giggles hidden in the complaint. The underlying theme is the same as anyone would find in the misnamed pro-family groups' messages. That is, those who would forbid and hinder same-sex marriage are demonstrably anti-family, anti marriage and anti-children. They discourage legally solemnized commitments and rob couples and their kids of the protections and benefits other assume and get.

Thus it is with the main points of the suit. The only purposes are to hinder, harm and hamper homosexuals. On a governmental level this takes the form of mandating state laws and procedures. For families, DOMA serves only to punish and deprive them.

Using his predictable script yesterday, Mass. Family Institute President Kris Mineau claimed DOMA had been court vetted already and found constitutional. He called yesterday's filing "frivolous" and said, "We believe the suit will have no credibility in the federal courts."

Perhaps he should read it and reconsider. The feds sent an early message that there's some beef here. The immediate response from the Department of Justice through a two-sentence statement by Spokesman Chris Miller was that the President "supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. We will review this case."

Cascading Harm



Moreover, the Globe cites Northwestern's law professor Andrew Koppelman as saying DOMA has not been tested constitutionally before. However, he think's GLAD's version of challenging Section 3 has an even better chance of proving unacceptable discrimination. That suit entered the system four months ago.

  • The suit makes three charges (p. 2) — In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people.
  • It notes that marriage is not one of the powers the Constitution reserves for the federal government. Rather, since the origins of the nation, states have had the authority to define and regulate marriage. (p.8 and elsewhere)
  • Its main call for injunctive relief is for the return of the right to "define marriage within [Massachusetts'] own boundaries. (p. 3)
  • It claims that "DOMA prospectively invalidated marriages between same-sex couples for purposes of all federal laws, whether enacted before or after DOMA," (p. 8) thus unconstitutionally usurping state powers.
  • It points to the disconnect of one part of DOMA (Section 2) supporting states rights by freeing states from having to recognize SSMs solemnized elsewhere while interfering with Massachusetts' own definition and regulation of marriage. (p 9)
  • It specifies a wide variety of benefits and protections that DOMA effectively precludes legally marriage SS couples from receiving. (pp. 11-21). In addition to the widely published tax, Social Security, pension and insurance topics, it also covers burial in veterans cemeteries within the Commonwealth.
Unlike Mineau's self-comforting fantasy, the realities of both suits are very specific and real. In fact, yesterday's version cites real damages to both SS families and the Commonwealth. Those are the charges that courts, particularly federal ones, do not dismiss out of hand.

Whether GLAD's or Massachusetts' suit comes up first and resolves the issues for the other will take some months. Meanwhile tomorrow has become today on DOMA.

Locally, there is speculation that Coakley filed this now with an eye toward Ted Kennedy's Senate seat when it becomes vacant. She is ambitious and plenty smart, so that's a reasonable ball for her to put in play. Nationally too, this emphasizes the calls from here and many places for President Obama to drive the overturning of DOMA, which he says he wants. When the damages are listed so clearly in these two suits, doing that may be a little easier.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

MA Cries DOMA Foul

Maybe I'll rethink the sponginess of our AG Martha Coakley. She filed a federal suit today against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It apparently claims the feds overreached

When it becomes public, I'll analyze the suit and post a link to it. Likewise, I'm sure my favorite law prof, NYU's Arthur Leonard will do the best job discussing it and he'll get links here too. So far, Coakley's office has not issued a release and only scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference.

The short in today's Globe, cite's the claim:
In enacting DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states' efforts to recognize recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people
Also, DOMA "... interferes with the Commonwealth's authority to define and regulate marriage."

From here, I've long held that DOMA violates the spirit of comity under the guise of states rights. While prima facie, it looks like a hard sell to claim that the terrible inequity of denying federal benefits and protections falls under state law, but I have yet to read the suit.

More to follow.

P.M. Update: After some wonderful (and relatively inexpensive) IPAs at Cambridge Common, I returned to find the suit and a transcript of the press conference. The initial reading of the 32-page complaint shows it to be well constructed. I see a reasonable chance of success in winning relief for Massachusetts same-sex marrieds, with the implication that other states that permit SSM can ride this. Analysis will appear tomorrow (Thursday, 7/9/9).

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sanford Crazy and Liking It

S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford was and is predictably mad. I posted on the undercurrents as a non-political blog over at my Harrumph! Then I realized it probably belonged here too. Done.

Sandford’s heartSilly and sad sandlapper Gov. Mark Sanford did not surprise a third to half of us, that would be the sometimes limerents. We understand deeply from experience that he was driven in a way the other half cannot comprehend..

He could have held back. He could have behaved. He could have walked away from his initial consuming passion for his Argentine lover. Doing those would have been damned, damned, damned hard.

Moreover, with a political personality and an ego the seems the size of a Western state, perhaps Montana, he didn’t even bother controlling his limerence.

Just in case you have somehow missed the seminal treatise Love and Limerence by Dorothy Tennov, pick it up and marvel. Your library’s had it for 20 years and it’s still in print even after the author’s death a couple of years ago. Derided by some shrinks when it first appeared, it and its themes have found broad acceptance.

Most clearly, Sanford wasn’t overtaken by lust or boredom with his wife. He didn’t admire the Maria from way down South and find that affection slowly advance in form. He didn’t make a calculated decision to add a new bed partner.

Limerence is the abrupt and passionate falling in love, as opposed to all those calculated maneuvers. Once smitten, Sanford could not control the compelling feelings. Of course, he still might have kept himself from acting on them as he did, and repeatedly.

As Tennov noted in work, limerence is scary and befuddling to non-limerents. For those who only know the love that develops logically from attraction to affection to deepening into love, the falling-in-love thing is somehow wrong and disruptive. They hear someone describe the great passions and compulsions of limerence and say something like, “That’s madness. It’s being out of control!”

The limerents though are apt to view their counterparts as fairly dull and lacking. They are apt to think, “How sad not to experience the depth and range of true love and passion!”

Tennov’s most famous book has useful lessons for both types. Non-limerents certainly would benefit from knowing what the falling-in-love types feel. They may well have been limerent objects themselves and reading about the driven admirers would clarify those relationships for them and teach them how to deal with someone mooning after them (cut ‘em off and make it plain you won’t respond). Likewise, limerents may not be aware of how common their feelings are, what the prognosis for the limerent state is and what they might do with unrequited passion to make it bearable.

I personally understand Sanford’s compulsions, but I can’t forgive his destructive acting out. As a relatively wealthy man with freedom to travel and make his schedule, he abused his privileges as well as both women involved. Instead, he could have wallowed in the intoxication and sweetness of self-pity over the impossible love. His ego and self-indulgent nature apparently would not allow such denial.

Mark darkHe faced and almost certainly still faces an almost overwhelming drive to be with Maria. He showed that in the addled and muddled confessions he made afterward. A trait of actualized limerence is the public acceptance of and bragging about the love. It’s that strong.

Sudden, great passions are the stuff of theater and literature. They dominate song lyrics as well. Limerence serves as negative examples and cautionary tales for love gone wrong, for madness of the unrequited, for the power of emotional need over steady thoughts. The great fulfillment when huge passions are accepted and returned make much less entertaining screenplays…and news stories.


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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Chuck the Deluded

Alas, just because I've devoted many electrons to City Councilor Chuck Turner I guess I need to keep it current. I'll minimize that.

For those who thought he was loony, have no doubts now. If you have the stomach for it, read they whole Dorchester Reporter article on his latest here.

The short of it is that Turner has said and written that he is the victim of a conspiracy at the highest levels of the U.S. Executive Branch. As he not so subtly put it:
It's really about the deal that Sullivan made with Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft. What do I mean by that? I personnally believe that former Attorney General Ashcroft said to Sullivan that if he could take down Senator Wilkerson and myself, he would put up the money to open the firm of Ashcroft and Sullivan in Boston where they could try to secure business for Halliburton to serve as a base while Sullivan prepares for his run for Governor. Ashcroft seems to have made similar deals with three other US Attorneys in other parts of the country. In other words the quid pro quo for taking us down was the money to open the office.
So, he'd have it that the then President, Vice President, Attorney General and local U.S. Attorney diverted their attention from terrorists, wars and such to take him down. Draw your own conclusions.

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California Gasping for Air


California is not a shopoholic homemaker who bought too many shoes and lunches. The state is broke for fundamental reasons that are clear warnings to others.

To torture and alter the analogy, California did not suddenly sink into the Pacific. It worked real hard to go underwater.

Over at Salon, Gary Kamiya points his finger of blame largely at Republican and libertarian no-tax sorts. He writes that the stand-off between anti-government types and leftists remains in inaction because of legislative rules requiring a two-thirds vote on big issues.

While that is important, I return to examine the cumulative effect of decades of plentiful, destructive ballot initiatives. This is my recurrent theme of the flamethrower of populism.

The most simple-minded of us are wont to chant, "Let the people vote." Even the sanest of us feel the pull of trying to govern a state of nearly 38 million like a town meeting. That fails when we substitute policy plebiscites for representative democracy.

That's exactly what tipped California into the drink.

Some such votes, like overturning same-sex marriage this fall have smaller and less obvious economic impacts. Many others, like mandating continued government services while rolling down and capping property taxes, are killers. Voters don't want to pay taxes, but they want the services taxes used to buy. Something has to give. In this case, it is the entire state government. Salon has a couple of such examples, but there are many and have been new ones annually.

The Reaganomics fantasies of getting along just fine without government...and the taxes to fund it...play at their worst this week in Sacramento. Other states have adjusted more quickly to the realities of financing the minimum services their voters demand, but they have not been under the strictures and initiative requirements as California.

Here in Massachusetts, we have let the majority of our legislature and our governors between Michael Dukakis and Deval Patrick swear they will not raise taxes, any taxes. Instead, they deferred infrastructure maintenance and investment in technologies and education. We're in the brine, but not underwater, here as a result. Also, our much stricter initiative process virtually eliminates unfunded mandates.

Somehow, California is certain to resurface. Just as surely, the bad kinds of anti-tax/anti-government sorts will continue their ceaseless ballot initiatives. Now though, they will find much less support. People who have held state IOUs instead of payments and those looking at poorer education, fewer police and firefighters and the countless small effects of bankruptcy are not as likely to live the fantasy again so soon.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fast Firefox Plug


Just a non-political word to the wise, the new Firefox 3.5 browser released yesterday is worth the download. As Mozilla claims, it's clearly more than twice as fast as the old version. IE is slower as well as less safe.

By the bye, I keep IE on my boxes. Some sites require it for full functionality. However, I don't frequent old-school, browser limited sites.

Today's FT also got with the program. Its writers like Chrome as well as FF. They draw attention to leapfrogging IE's features with nifty touches like being able to play audio and video without add-ins or plug-ins. Slate's main geek, Farhad Manjoo, discusses the underlying technologies for FF's big jump.

By the bye, on a personal note, the 3.0 version of FF I had used did seem bloated. It also did not always exit gracefully, instead hanging in memory and requiring a process quit manually. The new one does not have that issue on my equipment.

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