Friday, October 30, 2009

Rolling the Councilor Dice

Being relentlessly egalitarian, I would like to be able to believe that we voters decide on merits and issues, not looks, race, gender and such.

Not only is that not realistic or historically accurate, but those factors are so intertwined, separating them would be impossible.

A short post in No Drumlins, Women for Coakley say woman for Coakley is not for Coakley because she's a woman, plays on that. It touches on U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas' endorsement with some wit, noting:
I have no doubt that Tsongas’s endorsement is based on merit and not gender. But it’s awfully rich for “a small team of women seeking big gains for women in politics,” which is hoping to unleash “the full potential of ‘the other half’ of the population’s unique perspective, talents and leadership” to criticize someone else for asking if gender is part of the decision-making process.
That can oppose to endorsements that don't pretend. Think EMILY's List. They say up front that they support and endorse pro-choice women who are Democrats. So there. You don't listen to them for the best candidate with their three criteria of gender, party and single position.

The votes and endorsements for 11/3 and 12/8 for Boston City Council and U.S. Senate are more muddled and subtle. They also highlight what the endorsers don't say or only mention in passing.

The Phoenix, Globe and Herald have coincided with my at-large council calls by 75%. They each and all substitute Ayanna Pressley for Andrew Kenneally.

Candidly, I admit that choosing one over the other on 11/3 won't save nor destroy Boston. Yet having interviewed both here and at Left Ahead!, I stand by my choice with confidence. That leaves some musing on the others' endorsements.

It's glib and somewhat justifiable to dismiss those as race and gender based this year. Set aside that Kenneally is vastly more qualified by experience and expertise than the other five never-elected candidates, including Pressley. There's something to be said for trying occasionally to balance the scales.

In this allegedly liberal and civil-rights oriented commonwealth, we have a shameful tally of office holders who are either women or of color. Without Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, for one, our Senate would look like a 1950s country club golf course.

As she noted too often early in her campaign, Pressley is a two-fer, African-American and female. Our very white, very male city council needs the perspective and indeed the mere presence of some diversity. ...inbreeding and inertia and idea poverty and all that.

Consider the papers' justifications:
  • GlobeIf elected, Ayanna Pressley would be the first black woman to serve on the council. She offers an impressive resume, including the post of political director for US Senator John F. Kerry. A first-time candidate, she is sometimes prone to political platitudes on the stump. But she is also deeply passionate and knowledgeable about elevating the lives of poverty-stricken families, drug addicts, and victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Pressley, 35, is open about the pain she experienced as the daughter of an addicted and incarcerated father, and she is eager to use those experiences to help others through strong constituent service and sound lawmaking.
  • HeraldNewcomer Ayanna Pressley, the only woman in the race, brings experience running the political arm of U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office in Boston and handling constituent services for ex-Rep. Joe Kennedy, and she has the human touch. We predict differences with her on policy issues, but Pressley would bring a fresh, new perspective to a body that could use it.
  • PhoenixPressley learned how government works as a staffer for Senator John Kerry and Congressman Joe Kennedy. She has also been active in a variety of nonprofit organizations. Pressley speaks passionately about making the city work for everyone. Her commitment is convincing. Her experience, buoyancy, and energy suggest she will be a results-oriented public servant who will use her skills and connections to get things done. Pressley would also be the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Council — and the first African-American elected to citywide office in Boston in 16 years. Most important, she has the right priorities and basket of skills.
So, they each bring in gender and two cite race. That's fair; Pressley is a package and those are as obvious as her intelligence and smooth presentation. Yet, none of the three suggest she is the best candidate and the Herald is plain about her likely shortcomings. None of them admits that Kenneally suffers from being yet another Irish-American on a council that has a full history of favoring white men from WASPs to Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, with far too few people of color and damned few women.

I like Ayanna and respect her intentions as well as her intellect. Yet, her primary selling points are similar to those of the seven candidates who did not make the preliminary-election cut last month. She'd work real hard in unspecified ways with vague pathways toward broad goals. We are supposed to trust that she will grow into the job and not be just another councilor who does constituent services well enough to keep enough voters content to get re-elected. In terms of her having worked for a U.S. Senator, there's no correlation to the job in question.

Well for me, I oppose casinos here and I don't like to gamble on our political future. We decidedly could use some diversity in both the State House and City Hall. Getting it by betting on unproven pols is not the way to achieve that.

What we really must demand as an electorate is that pols in power step up as mentors to develop and promote good people. We have a terrible culture of that here. Those in office need to identify potential stars who are not of the same gender, race, culture or class. They are there. Some pass through as interns or other employees. They meet others among activists and community leaders. Office holders should be the professors and impresarios of those stars. We can't count on a few Black, Latino or other hopefuls to claw their way unaided into office.

For this election, we should have no doubt that Kenneally can do the job, and do it better than the other five never-elected candidates. Not only did he do services, policy, budget and public interface for Councilors Maura Hennigan and Mike Flaherty, on his own he has specific platform planks and steps for achievable goals for the council and city.

This really isn't a choice, not this election. I'd rather not gamble on who might be able to grow into the job.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Double Pointy

Two worthwhile clicks are:

Please nearly everyone

John F. Bowes III worked with the Patrick administration to do the project, which restores a service discontinued to save money. The result is an only mildly obnoxious reminder by phone, email or text message with a brief ad. Sign up at the RMV site for free. It securely sends your encrypted data to Sendza, which in turn has its figurative robots generate the message a month before your license will expire. It's free to the commonwealth. Sendza apparently makes its profit from insurance companies and the like who piggyback an ad in the message, like a banner on a web page.

So the fiscal conservatives should like the free service to customers. The free-market folk should appreciate the business/government partnership. The libertarian types should also like the business deal, plus it is an opt-in-only service with secure data use. Lefties may be mildly annoyed by the intrusion, but balance it with the service to the public.

Back in Bed

Here and at Left Ahead!, we've mused on the very odd confluence of disparate types opposing casino gambling here. Ryan Adams will carry our banner to the State House today for the large and surely contentious hearing. He'll surely find himself mingling with fundies and Mass Family Institute sorts, who are also against gambling.

Our reasons may be different — neither Ryan nor I quote any scripture on this. However, all the groups and individuals on our side see it as the wrong way to try to increase cash flow. We largely figure it will end up costing citizens as well as government more in the end, with the profits going out of state to the bad guys.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Old Enough, Just Old, Too Old?

So Tom Menino is 66. That's a famous highway. It's also a typical obituary number.

With credit to his challengers and critics, few have made much of his age in this Boston mayoral re-election bid. To be sure his four terms and 16 plus years in office, the longest serving ever, have made the debates and campaign literature of those who would take his relative throne in the concrete castle. There's an implication there that he's old, but the thrust is too long in office.

Cross-post note: This is one of those rare cases that seems to fit here and at Harrumph!

I would not be the first or even the 900th to note that in some European nations and typical Asian ones 66 is considered a reasonable age for a chief executive to take office. That's supposed to bring maturity, wisdom, experience, knowledge, expertise, savvy and even statesmanship.

In last night's final debate before next week's voting, his age was the only humor safety valve in a tense session. He got chuckles answering about city workers in general, "I don’t believe in mandatory retirement.’" Pause. Laughter.

Yet, Menino is just a little older than the youngest baby boomer. Judging from print, broadcast and blog chatter, many younger Americans would just as soon that such oldsters toddle off to Cape Cod or wherever they can get to...right now.

It's easy to see them corking up jobs while ignoring the boomer role in keeping Medicare and Social Security funded for WWII and Korean era folk, putting the Gen-X and Gen-Y kids through college, or caring for elderly parents and even considering age protection in employment law. The media melodrama of the 50-something multimillionaire subset is much more, well, dramatic.

So, again, Tom is 66. Is that too old to be mayor? The would-be replacement, Michael Flaherty is no child himself. but at 40, he'd be a decade younger than Tom when he became mayor.

We don't see Mike smearing Tom for his age nor Tom asking if Mike is too young to be mayor.

For sure, Mike and the challengers who fell in September's preliminary had strong arguments for replacing Tom. He has been there so long he's out of ideas. He's so entrenched that development, schools and other key functions seem stagnant.

Perhaps it's to our credit that being a year past the traditional retirement age for the previous two generations has not been a campaign issue. Yet, I think the laughter at Tom's retirement remark is just one indication that we do have it in the back of our minds. We're all adults here, but we know that 66 is not 40.

Tom isn't giving any indication of age-related shortcomings. He is known sarcastically for his long memory (in holding slights) and seems to have great short-term recall.

Now, I'd like him to be healthier and have offered several times to go on long bike rides with him or cycle into City Hall together. Councilor Steve Murphy (himself 50-ish) joined me in that offer. As fond of his mountain bike as he is, Tom prefers to tool solo around his part of our shared neighborhood instead. Yet, even in physicality, he's far from limited by being mid-60s.

Of course, some pols stay in office after age has bested them. I think of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, whose brain had, if you pardon, gone South long before he died a few months after leaving office at 100, a very old 100. His voters returned him repeatedly past his expiration date in a combination of sentimentality and the self-interest of having such a senior legislator with power.

I doubt Tom has another 34 good years in office in him or that Bostonians would be so emotional and accommodating to a failing politician.

Meanwhile, our mayor has astonishing energy and focus. A key staffer told me she had trouble keeping pace with him as he did his job and campaigned non-stop. She's in her 20s.

I think Menino's opponents were wise in not raising the age issue. It's better that they stick to more saleable contrasts in how they would do this or that better. Too long in office? Maybe. Too long on the planet? Not yet.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Humble Elias Sits in at Left Ahead! Thursday

Golly, kids, it's been since last fall that we were able to get blogger John Galligan (a.k.a. Humble Elias of The Chimes at Midnight) to join us at Left Ahead! We have a special pre-election podcast this Thursday to get his commentary.

I'm sure we'll hit national and local politics, as well as cultural issues.

If we've worn you down with politicians or maybe just the three usual suspects, listen in on 10/29. We fire up at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. You can catch the live stream here then. Afterward you can hear the show at the same URL or return to Left Ahead! to listen or download the show.

Here's Looking at Me, Me, Me, Me


First, nobody won last night's sole televised debate among the four Dems who would take over Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. I'll sketch what I got out of it.

You can get the nuggets panned by analysts everywhere. I suggest starting with the Phoenix' Bernstein and the Globe's Mooney. In addition, some outside commentators on NRP and elsewhere are trying the idea that as the four are so similar and the primary only six weeks away, advertising will play a huge role; even here though, all four have enough money to compete and match each other's efforts.

Instead, look at the four like most voters are probable to view them. They presented themselves and appeared quite distinctive on the superficial level. while politically similar. That would be how we often decide whether we like someone, be it a coworker, someone at church or a politician.

This was the only chance most of us will get to see and hear the four hip to hip. Which of them would you put into a well-worn U.S. Senate leather chair? (By the bye, the eyes above, from left, belong to Stephen Pagliuca, Michael Capuano, Martha Coakley and Alan Khazei.)

To my shallow points, start that as a group, none of them had annoying stage presence. They didn't fidget or hide by looking at index cards or jingle change in a pocket or diddle an earlobe.

On the other hand, none came across like an elder statesman or even serious senator. Only the lawmaker, Capuano, was believable in the part of lawmaker. The other three are auditioning for the role.

Long-term Ted Kennedy observers and historians frequently note that he started 47 years ago younger than any of these four and no more experienced. In fact, Capuano would be an Eagle Scout to the freshman Ted's Cub. So, the three who have never been legislators of any type can reasonably claim to deserve a chance.

From the left of the stage, I met:
  • Martha Coakley — She does a good balance as coming across as a woman professional without being girly. Her pixie-short do tends to make her look a bit like a cartoon, think Jiminy Cricket or Peter Pan, but she doesn't growl, "I'm a woman, damn it!" nor giggle like a ditz. While her opening and closing statements took no risks and had little content, she at least seemed very sure of herself. (For unsolicited clothing advice, she could lose the Transformer-style shoulders on the jacket — distractingly pointy.)
  • Alan Khazei—He did better in the actual debate. When introduced, he grinned like he'd been hit in the head too often. He then came across as pretty smarmy at several points. He was the only one who seemed to be trying to sell us something. Physically, it's not his fault, but he does come across as kind of a Groucho Marx with the huge glasses and thick eyebrows; I expected to hear, "Say the secret word and win $100.)
  • Michael Capuano —He looked and acted what he is. He wasn't a rich guy in a custom suit; his looked like it probably was, one he'd campaigned in. His presentation was an odd mix. He stressed his big selling point, that he was the only one with Congressional experience, including a verifiable voting record. Then while he was telling us how well he worked with others to get things done, he was his characteristic combative self. I like his straight-ahead attitude, which others may find arrogant.
  • Stephen Pagliuca —He seemed much brighter and nicer than I had imagined. He played freshman basketball at Duke, although he has the carriage and shoulders of a high-school wrestler. At Bain, he clearly deals with many people who know their stuff and on stage he deferred frequently to Capuano and indirectly to President Obama and others whom he saw as fact-based managers (he loves fact-based).
Of the bunch, Coakley avoided risks the most. Conventional wisdom supports that posture. She was the jack rabbit, entering the race weeks before the others and doing her best to pretend she's Snow White with three dwarfs around her.

All four though avoided some answers, apparently for different motivations. That was a joy to the moderator, Peter Meade, head of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. He noted when they did that, although he occasionally blew it. For example, he started with a question about what moment each realized the desire to run for the seat. Three sidestepped it with a reply about why they were the right candidate. Capuano actually answered it, describing his thought process and timing, plus painting a moment where he stood alone analyzing whether he had the will to go for it. Unfortunately Meade was thinking ahead to scolding the quartet and missed it. Cappy was quick to correct him.

Throughout, Capuano alone seemed impatient with the three non-legislators. He is brusque in a way that I appreciate. He even seems frustrated with the race, as though the choice is obvious. Do you go with the pro or take a flier on an unproven and unknown person?

Yet, Coakley has kept her precocious lead. Capuano's experience, liberal votes and courageous stance are indisputable, but that hasn't leapfrogged her in the race. This is be a fascinating month and a half.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kenneally, Connolly, Arroyo, Murphy


Boston's At-Large Councilor race has confounded most voters this year. I can make it simple:
  • Vote for the two competent incumbents
  • Vote for the only other two with direct City Council experience
  • Vote Connolly, Murphy, Kenneally and Arroyo
  • Vote positions 1, 3, 6 and 7
All things are not equal this time. First, because Councilors Sam Yoon and Mike Flaherty stepped aside to run for Mayor rather than re-election, there are four spots open, really two when you subtract the two well-respected and accomplished incumbents. There's nothing voters would gain by replacing the two, particularly Connolly. He runs the education committee and is essential in efforts to upgrade our public schools. Keep 'em there.

Second, the original field of 15 candidates had a couple of oh-really and joker types, but was otherwise solid. Only one run-screaming-from-him candidate (crypto-Republican, no-plans, clean-streets Doug Bennett, the scooter guy) snuck into the final.

Tito Jackson and Tomas Gonzalez are bright enough and I can't question either's sincerity. Yet, neither has the chops yet for the job. Electing them would be taking a real flier, just hoping they could rise to the task. No thanks, not yet.

Pressley is the press' darling. Moreover, numerous interest groups who are happy to vote gender and race politics correctly point out that our Council doesn't come anywhere near to mirroring the cultural, gender and racial makeup of the city. It's not as bad as City Hall staff, but it falls short. Some would vote for her to put more check marks on the underrepresented side of the chart. My pinko reflex is to agree and I was surprised to find that I ended up strongly favoring yet another Irish-American from West Roxbury as the best challenger.

Arroyo seems to have captured the third seat after the incumbents, judging by his solid preliminary showing last month. Many of us have concluded the only real race here is between Kenneally and Pressley, with her leading in donations and preliminary vote.

I had to weigh this one carefully. Here personally and at Left Ahead!'s podcasts, we spoke with both. In fact, if you didn't catch their podcasts, click the single post at BlueMassGroup with players for both in one.

Judge for yourself. Pressley is personable, bright and confident. She has grown into her candidacy in the past couple of months. The huge difference is that Kenneally has done the job in Boston for Councilors Maura Hennigan and Michael Flaherty, and more important that he has the one thing Pressley does not. He has specific plans for accomplishing his/our goals.

In one area after another, Pressley says she'll work and try real hard — schools, safety...whatever. That seems to reflect the years of D.C. instead of Boston experience and expertise. She sounds like a member of Congress, with high-level aims and the knowledge that any path to them will have many guides and detours.

I'm a simple guy who grew up from country stock. I'll go with people who know where they're heading and how they want to get there.

Kenneally, Connolly, Murphy and Arroyo on November 3rd.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tom Tumbled Not

Grading himself with a B+ and immediately dropping it to a B, Mayor Tom Menino was only OK in last night's debate with challenger Mike Flaherty. That almost certainly was enough...and for a notoriously poor orator, OK is a B.

As I dreaded yesterday, the fizz went totally off the election tonic. Short of the introduction of deus ex machina, Da Mare will shuffle into his fifth four-year term. For Flaherty's team, that contrived salvation would be a swarm of new and young and change-hungry voters to confound the pollsters have Menino up 10 to 20 or more percent with two weeks before ballot-smudging date.


Selfishly, I wanted a new, improved Flaherty to take the stage. Instead of bright, reasoned and pleasant, he'd be charismatic and insightful. Instead of just better arguments and more detailed plans, he'd offer indisputably brilliant guides to Boston's future.

He didn't appear.

Flaherty was aggressive, more than he has been the whole campaign, but he was still like a prosecuting attorney recapping his best, belabored evidence. Menino was evasive and unconvincing (see examples in the Globe, Herald and WBUR). The short of it that as unfair as the requirement might be, Flaherty needed to be Magic Mike and was not.

Where was Magic Mike?


Come to think of it, there haven't been challengers to any Boston mayor of vitality and excitement since Mel King almost became the guy to follow Kevin White when he nearly defeated Ray Flynn in 1983. Since then, most challengers or first-time candidates have been pretty drab or otherwise only OK.

Moreover, we tend to attract and elect city councilors who do constituent services well, but are not inspiring leaders or mellifluous orators. We have one who thinks he is, Chuck Turner; he's flaky and despite an Ivy degree has a very poor command of language.

A few others do well enough. I think of John Tobin immediately, who has tons of good ideas and shows intermittent eloquence. Steve Murphy and John Connolly are quite adequate. Yet, I think of my minister, Kim Crawford Harvie over at the Arlington Street Church. If UUs had a a hell, a word and wave from her would inspire people to follow her there...singing all the way. No one in Council or in fact in City Hall has that personal power.

That's fine, except when it would be essential, as last evening.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Left Ahead! Lateral for Capuano


Our weekly podcast over at Left Ahead! shifts from Tuesday to Thursday this week only to accommodate Mike Capuano's sked. We try not to make this a habit, but he's doing his full-time U.S. Rep. job as well as campaigning for U.S. Senate.

We stream live with about a half hour with him on Thursday, October 22nd. You can catch that here. We click on at 6 p.m. Eastern this week and expect Capuano to get to us about 6:20.

If you're driving, drinking or otherwise busy, you can return to the show URL or Left Ahead! to hear or download the show later. It'll also be on iTunes.

We've put in several requests with Martha Coakley's people for her to join us, but haven't heard squat so far.

Meanwhile, Mike is in the chute. He's a plain talker and we look forward to this. From 6 until he comes on, we'll discuss his background and record, as well as the race to date.
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October No Prize

Unlike the surprise we might expect from political mechanization, Michael Flaherty never seemed to have taken magic lessons. His last chance to pull a winning trick out is certainly this evening. Ta da?

On stage before your very eyes (assuming you are in Dot at the Kennedy library or watching NECN, WBUR or WGBH), the would-be and the wooden ply their trade from 7 p.m. in debate. Neither could earn a living teaching oration.

The Would-Be and the Wooden


Yet Mayor Tom Menino need only not fall up, down or off the stage. Councilor Flaherty figuratively must levitate and circle the hall.

He's had the spark of scandals this time. We don't seem to care much. What's a would-be to do?

Nothing so far indicates that the sincere and bright challenger has new or substantially improved tricks (a.k.a. reasons) to trip up Da Mare. His hopes instead seem to be that a horde of young voters will join the politically fatigued and the change-impatient on November 3rd.

After his last re-election and consistently since, I urged Menino to give it a rest. The city is not in such bad shape that residents want him to disappear. Yet, as the fallen and still standing challengers have clarified, four more years of stasis won't overcome the inertia that keeps Boston standing still. Menino, as the longest-serving mayor here should have graciously stepped aside, proclaiming, "Look at all we (I) have done is 16-plus years!"

Now, he surely will be more like the boxer or quarterback who stayed too long, leaving to harrumphs and even boos.

ExcelsiorJ'accuse!I Know Better
Systemic
Tom Menino
Kevin McCreaMichael FlahertySam Yoon

In the name of Mike Curley, we know that we had real choices this time. We had a gadfly turned revolutionary in Kevin McCrea; he had your real change right there. We had the smart guy in Sam Yoon; he had the compelling path to the better, brighter Boston. We still have the little-bit-better mini-Menino in Flaherty; he offers enough but not too much change.

So far, we stay on our bar stools. The voting bloc seems to be the Inert for Tom.

As a relative political prostitute, I love the crisp debate and clarity it can bring. As Athenians all seem to pretend they are descended from and reveal Socrates and Aistotle, we here claim the likes of John Adams and William Lloyd Garrison. We say that we are or at least love the speechifiers, mind molders and soul stirrers.

In our defense:
  • Flaherty has been neither orator nor magician
  • Yoon was bright and often right, but demanded we pay close attention
  • McCrea was often abrasive and could seem a bit out there
Come 7 this evening, I'll sit with clipboard and a Leatherlips IPA (thanks, Bryn). Truth be told, I find Menino charming and adequate. Yet, the political and dramatic versions of me want the magic tonight. I want Flaherty on and enough out of character, aggressive but relaxed. I want lightning. I want enough excitement to make us go to the polls wondering who'll be our next mayor.

Tuesday Update: Comment on the debate is here.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Getting It On Downeast

Blessed be. In Maine, the locals and the real marriage supporters are roughing up the anti-gay/anti-same-sex marriage gang. A heartening Press-Herald article details the huge influx of funds to defeat the nasty effort to overturn SSM there.

The short of it is populist donations are overwhelming the NOM and other anti-LGBT lobby. The latest figures are $2.7 million for the good guys and $1.1 million for the anti-equality sorts.

By the bye, there are several weeks to go before the vote. It's not to late for us to double up our donations to the No on 1 team...or chip in if you haven't started. This is a worthy fight.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Windy Obama and HRC Promises

Over at Left Ahead!, Ryan and I had a satisfying (almost) rant today. It will be more so if listeners act on our suggestions.

We are beyond tired of the bluster from President Obama and from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Campaigner Barack Obama promised to bring full marriage equality (although he wussed out on using marriage), promised to overturn the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and promised to halt the military's don't-ask-don't-tell (DADT) sham/scam. The HRC appointed itself champion of LGBT causes.

Both have repeatedly failed, even the easy acts. For one example, Commander-in-Chief Obama could halt DADT immediately by ordering non-enforcement. Wait...wait...wait. No more waiting!

We urge visits, calls, emails and letter to the White House and to HRC. To the latter, no more money or volunteer time for a do-nothing fund-raising machine. Likewise, it's time for letters to the editor, op-ed columns, blog posts and more beyond telling Obama and the HRC to shut up with counseling patience. Do it or don't!

Click below for the podcast.








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Monday, October 12, 2009

Left Ahead! Doubles Up This Week

At Left Ahead!, we have two shows this week, on Tuesday and Thursday.

At our regular day and time, we discuss President Obama's promises to the LGBT communities. In light of his weekend speech to the Human Rights Campaign, how are his repeal DOMA and DADT promises playing? To keep our acronyms perking, we discuss HRC itself.

Catch that show live here at 2:30 Eastern on Tuesday, Oct. 13th, or check back at Left Ahead! afterward.

On Thursday, we run a special show talking with Boston City Council candidate Ayanna Pressley. In September's preliminary, she finished a strong fourth of 15 candidates. She needs to be in the top four of eight in the November final to take her first elected office. We have spoken with her competitor, Andrew Kenneally. She details why she deserves to be one of four.

Likewise, catch that show live here at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15th, or check back at Left Ahead! afterward.


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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Carrying a Small Stick in Gay Rights Battles

The bully pulpit to Barack Obama seems to be a very quiet and gentle place indeed. In his campaign and after his election, he has promised much to the LBGT community...virtually all pending, pending, pending.

In his address to the Human Rights Campaign last evening, he promised again, he received ovations again and Americans are waiting again. Judge for yourself in watching his 25-minute speech on MSNBC here. Try hitting:
  • 5:27 — I"m here with a simple mesage. I'm here with you in that fight (for LGBT equality).
  • 6:20 — Many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough.
  • 8:28 — My commitment to you is unwavering even as we wrestle with these enormous problems (economy, war and more).
  • 9:15 — A relationship between two men or two women are just as real and admirable as between a man and a woman.
  • 13:25 — I will not waver in my commitment to ending discrimination in all its forms.
  • 14:40 — We are moving ahead on don't-ask-don't-tell. We shouldn't be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve their country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we're fighting two wars. We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight, anymore than we can afford for our military's integrity to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised into having to live a lie. I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end don't-ask-don't-tell. That's my commitment to you.
In the 15 years DADT has been in force, we have learned that the soldiers don't seem to care much about whether their buddies are gay or lesbians. Many of the older officers spew some cliché about undermining unit cohesiveness regardless. The President responsible for this sham, Bill Clinton, claimed to be gay supportive, yet foisted this compromise on the nation as well as the even worse Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The latter is more intractable. It requires considerable legislative and administrative work to reverse. In contrast DADT would be ineffective immediately, if Obama had the will. The legislation to which he refers would simply overturn a policy as interpreted in a defense appropriations act. Meanwhile, an executive order from the President would stop enforcement and effectively kill DADT.

I rather doubt Obama is not aware he is commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. He can pull rank on DADT to get this in the works right now.

The Palm Center's plan to end DADT lays out the specifics of status and the way out. None of it is as difficult as Obama has made it. Instead, he is off dickering with generals. In military minds, he is showing weakness to subordinates, never wise.

Likewise on same-sex marriage, Obama is two-faced about that. He says firmly and repeatedly he's for equal treatment, yet he won't take that small step to supporting SSM. He will go as far as asking too nicely for the repeal of DOMA and for a domestic-partnership law at the national level. Those are well on the way to where someone who claims he supports full rights for gays should be headed. He needs more pushes to align rhetoric and reality.

Put me down on the not progressing fast enough side. He claims the bully pulpit, but he has to step up and speak up.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Steele's Ignoble Bluster

Quads pounding and endorphins kicking in, I thought of GOP buffoon-in-chief (a.k.a. chairman of the Republican National Committee) Michael Steele as I cycled today. His less widely quoted comments on President Barack Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize deserve consideration.

They also deserve to be made into a big sampler and hung on the wall. Let us reflect on them as our President tries to undo many years of Republican and conservative Dem-led failures of diplomacy, economics and foreign policy.

Here and cross-posted at BMG, I was one of the many who foreshadowed Obama's view that now he has to make some serious progress in his peace efforts — a call to action for him, us and other nations, as he put it. Yet, I was very surprised later in the day to hear the ever derisive drama queen Steele go beyond claiming that the award was totally undeserved.

Using repetition as his rhetorical punchline, he asked iteratively whether receiving the award would help Obama — in passing health-care reform or getting more votes for this or that cause. With each question, he concluded, "I think not," with great enthusiasm and no small amount of projected schadenfreude. Like the worst of the right wing, he would have Obama and us as a nation fail, so long as the GOP benefited in the end.

Somewhere around mile 25 on my ride, I had worked through the stupidity and meanness of Steele. Those are, after all, his defining traits and by extension the badges his party wears now.

His rhetoric had clear implications...of failure. Steele would have it that the Nobel would not advance Obama's progressive promises or his efforts to undo the dreadful social, economic and military entanglements. But is that so and likely?

Under the archaic, aristocratic Senate rules, 60% of the body has to support any serious bill. Yet, Obama's progressive goals are for such rational and overdue changes that the Dems are only a few votes away on any given issue. What if a few events, including the awarding of the Peace Prize, sway a vote here and another there? What if Steele's cocksure rhetoric — I think not! — proves not so obvious?

What if Obama's too-slow, too-cautious, too-compromising aspirations for the nation and world come to fruition? What if the blue-dog Dems and even some Republicans are influenced by the needs of the world, nation and their constituents, coupled with the new choices the Administration offers, and catalyzed by even such small sparks as recognition of his drive toward peace in our time? What if the Peace Prize does in fact give just a little more leverage?

As Steele was making his bitter and nasty comments, the head of the prize committee had his own statement. At a news conference, Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. "We hope this can contribute a little bit to enhance what he is trying to do."

That is certainly within the possible. We live in a fearful world, one tired of wars as well as financial trauma. I think I'll stick with the guy with the good goals and some plans to achieve them instead of the prophets of the impossible.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Capuano Mini-Chat


In a call-in blogger round table this evening, three of us got in a few questions for U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano. In the contest for the U.S. Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, he appears to be the one plain talker.

We're in the process of getting him on Left Ahead! for a full podcast. In preparation, tonight's quick session was a good introduction. I didn't feel I was had, lied to or worked. That's refreshing from a politician.

For this blog, there's a mixed message on the Defense of Marriage Act. Capuano has long been an advocate for gay rights, including same-sex marriage. He is one of a group in the House who re-introduces bills to overturn DOMA regularly.

This fits in the three things he says he will never compromise on — civil liberties, human rights, and war and peace.

Unfortunately, he wasn't hopeful short term on DOMA. "We just don't have the votes on the floor of the House...and maybe even in the Senate." He says he will keep trying.

He agreed with me that President Obama should follow through on his promise to use his bully pulpit for LGBT issues. "That may not change many minds, but more important, it's the right thing to do," he added, saying it would be a powerful message from the leader of the free world.

I look forward to a longer chat with him. He's very candid. While he's been a lawyer since 1977 and a politician (five-term Somerville mayor from 1990 and U.S. Rep. since 1998), he doesn't seem too slick to believe.

I believe him when he says everyone in the Senate race will have enough money to compete, but that he won't have the most. He seems positive that this special election with a Dec. 8th primary and Jan. 19th final will be decided on issues. He has a fully articulated set of those.

Our AG Martha Coakley jumped in weeks ahead of everyone else, and several rich guys have followed with Capuano. He figures he still has them all beat on issues and for the voters who would want to continue in Kennedy's progressive tradition.

As a teaser for a future podcast, I'll pass along what he sees as his strong points:
  • He sees the move from House to Senate as lateral, with none of the other candidates with any related experience at all.
  • From the beginning, he's been against the death penalty, the Iraq War and the PATRIOT Act, with votes and speeches.
  • He has a long history of a progressive political philosophy in the mold of Kennedy.
  • He has a track record in the House of the other, the parochial side of politics. "Bringing home the bacon, that is my forte," he said.

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Premature Peace Prize


We should all be stunned to learn that the military and political leader mired in multiple wars and unsure how to act won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In reality, reading the brief citation from the awarding committee shows President Barack Obama was the recipient for what he might do, maybe, perhaps...

This whole mess reminds me of discussions with Roman Catholic chums about sin. To some, timing is all. Under dogmas allowing forgiveness by a cleric, dying under official absolution is all you need. In contrast, most Protestants are supposed to truck their bad deeds and thoughts with them, while they use this guilt and admission to be better people.

It's likely that most of the world measures the aggregate of how we behave, instead of a single act or certainly our potential for good. Think the Book of Daniel, Chapter 5. The rake King Belshazzar got the handwriting on the wall — mene mene tekel upharsin, you have been weighed and found wanting. Game over.

Nobel Pollyanna


This year's selection committee figures our President is good for his bluster. The citation doesn't have big accomplishments, rather a change of emphasis, including:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

So, he's rewarded for planning a meal and setting the table. There needs to be more.

Not the Worst


This prize has had many obviously deserving winners and a few dubious ones. The worst was unquestionably Henry Kissinger, Ph.D., diplomat, politician and war criminal. After his complicity in the deaths of millions in Vietnam and in the year of the travesty of the coup in Chile with the murder of President Salvador Allende, he got the medal, the money and the praise in 1973.

His version came from selective vision, as did Yasser Arafat's in 1994. They were involved in a truce or conflict resolution. While not as thoroughly cleansing as a priest's absolution, this was enough for the committee to push aside the heavy counterweights of behavior and intent.

To me, folksinger Tom Paxton has a broader, clear view of Kissinger, as he sang:
But the white bones of Allende and the scattered bones of Chile
Are the scream that breaks the silence of the thousands blown away.
Oh, the white bones of Allende and the scattered bones of Chile
Are not silent, they are screaming; they're your Peace Prize, Doctor K.
In contrast, President Obama does not have hands bloodied in evil deeds and willful destruction of lives and nations. Yet, he has much, very much to accomplish before he becomes a peace monger.

What we should hope and demand from him is that he live up to the award's claims that he has the potential to bring peace.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Banner Sees Floon Foundering


In a nice piece of work by Yawu Miller, the Bay State Banner weighs the joint, kind of, candidacy of Councilors Michael Faherty and Sam Yoon in efforts to defeat Mayor Tom Menino next month. It's another case of mene mene tekel upharsin, as you surely are wont to chant. The article weighs them and finds them wanting.

The short of it is that while the closest Menino comes to being of color is his ruddiness, Latino and African-American like him (to the tune of 65% of the vote). Flaherty took some unpopular stances with those constituents, such as wanting to end school busing until he recently changed his mind. However, the advantage goes to the Da Mare for simpler reasons.

Many voters of color see him as having been there for them, literally as well as figuratively. As the article cites sometimes Menino critic Councilor Chuck Turner:

According to City Councilor Chuck Turner, Menino has earned black support by maintaining a strong presence in the community.

“I just saw him this morning at a groundbreaking in Dudley Square,” Turner noted. “He spends a lot of time in the district. I think the Menino administration has made as great, if not greater, investment in the Greater Roxbury area than any previous administration.”

Obviously Flaherty and Yoon can't overtake years of presence in the next month. Individually, they have strong support in Flaherty's Southie and similar areas, as well as among progressives who like Yoon. In the final weeks before Nov. 3rd, we'll have to see if they can or even try to make major advances in Menino's base.


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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Skipping Through Scandals

Finding flawed candidates is too damned easy this election cycle from Boston City Council to Mayor to the U.S. Senate. Choosing the contender with the heaviest baggage is tough, but they share a characteristic. They seem to have gotten away with whatever it was.

"Scandals? We don't have no scandals. We don't need no stinkin' scandals," as an updated bandito might say.

In what might be ruinous in more moralistic times and places, consider the likes of:
  • The Mayor's top aide deleting thousands of emails, including those likely relating to subjects of federal corruption cases.
  • A mayoral candidate with a long history as Council president in foiling public access to public meetings and records.
  • A Senate candidate who refused to prosecute or even investigate corruption.
  • A Councilor running for re-election under federal corruption indictment.
None of these and numerous other examples in and beyond Boston has queered any candidacy. In those few references, Mayor Tom Menino calls honest mistake, Councilor Michael Flaherty claims he learned the law and his lesson, AG Martha Coakley simply assures us she did her full job, and Councilor Chuck Turner says his 53% of votes in the multi-candidate primary is a mandate showing people know his innocence.

You might suppose that such cases would be the end of the reach for public office...not here, not now.

It's true enough that Bostonians have always enjoyed the entertainment value of our rascals. Think 1904, when we re-elected James Michael Curley as an alderman when he was serving a prison term for fraud. That appears not to be the exception, rather setting the tone. While our mayors and legislators look ethical enough in contrast to some in Illinois or Louisiana, many are not examplars of, say, the Boy Scout oath and law.

This all drives to rhetorical questions. For example, do voters care and should they care that elected officials favor expediency over duty?

My bet is that if you ask an individual voter, you'd get a resounding claim of morality and concern. Then asking about a specific candidate, you'd hear equivocation and excuses.

It has become increasingly plain that a little guilt is like a little gilt — just decoration.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Flaherty Stays Pale in Debate


What's 50% of ho-hum? Half of the two scheduled debates in Boston's mayoral final contest happened last evening. So?

My short take is that challenger Michael Flaherty was good, which is not good enough. My call after their joint announcement was that Flaherty/Yoon have shown their weapons against Menino, but they'll need more and better to topple him.

You can't pretend you just missed the face-off (debate-like object). WCVB will have the whole show, minus the breaks, from here.

Joining me in the blowhard world are:
  • Dave Bernstein at Talking Politics, with a mini-review saying Menino "came out fine."
  • The news piece at the Herald tried to claim a minor scuffle over promising Yoon a cabinet-level position "raises debate's temperature." (What, 1 degree or 2?)
  • In the same tab, Peter Gelznis was more accurate saying both guys avoided real answers throughout.
  • The news piece in the Globe reads that it was a draw.
  • Its editorial commentary was that Flaherty came off looking mayoral (which may be swell if he wants to play one on TV after losing Nov. 3rd, I'd add).
The harsh reality of that show was that there were no new weapons or tactics. Making it worse for Flaherty was that when the bad cop, the one strident person at the table, reporter Janet Wu, pressed him for definitive answers, he sidled off the nave into an aisle to escape.

A biggy there was the firefighters' union. He had a chance to show some guts and draw a clear distinction between Da Mare. Menino has been unable to get this recalcitrant group of blackmailers to agree to drug tests without at least a 20% raise. Wu demanded strongly that Flaherty commit to cutting the deal without giving up more than the 14% Menino has been offering.

Instead, as he did throughout the hour, he said he'd negotiate the best deal possible for the citizens of Boston. That's right, boys and girls, trust the man whom that union has endorsed and featured on its website. Rather than come off as Rambo or the like, he implied that he could out arbitrate Menino. No pledges, no points.

Alas, I am the voyeur. I want the vicarious excitement that our dailies pretend we already have. Where's the cavalry to the rescue? Where are the new, more powerful arguments? Where are the compelling reasons to pick Flaherty with or without Yoon?

I say the challenger(s) have two weeks to breakthrough.

Saturday Pointer: Nice piece of work — Chris Lovett runs a 14-minute interview with Flaherty and Yoon. The former makes is face-to-face points better and adds program details on what Menino can do for jobs and specifically what the pair would do with the development process. He remains spongy about whipping the fire union into rationality.


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