Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Priests Commanded to Focus

Every priest a saint...right?

Well, to listen to local Archbishop, Sean Cardinal O'Malley, all that will take will be some focus.

Keen. Foolishly I had thought it might be time 1) to take legal and moral responsibility and 2) to rethink that father-come-lately mandatory celibacy thingummy.

However, at least the message he delivered to hundreds of local priests in his Holy Week homily was that even with proof that thousands upon thousands of their number are linked to child abuse and in a few cases heterosexual adultery and fornication, they can each and all live lives of holiness.

Cynicism aside, I note that he was a couple of steps above the simple-minded just-say-no rhetoric about drugs and premarital sex foisted on teens for decades. He had specific, detailed steps. Those include the three-part plan of:
  • Annual personal retreat "for silence prayer, and spiritual direction, and a review of our life."
  • Supporting and holding each other accountable in regular activities.
  • Leading a balanced life.
Unfortunately, that balanced life is heavily edited for the priesthood. It does not resemble the self-help and development that has worked for billions of non-clerics for centuries. Instead, according to that Boston Globe recap above, that would instead be "setting aside at least an hour a day for prayer and meditation, allowing time for sleep and exercise, eating properly, and getting regular medical checkups."

One might note that this strategy does not mention a fulfilling emotional and sexual side to life. Under strictures of being married to the church and Christ, requisite celibacy and sublimation, the urges of hormones and the thoughts and feelings normal to nearly all of us are flat out.

For the many Roman Catholic clerics, as well as the parallels in a few other Eastern and Western religious groups, a pivotal ideal dominates. The superior practitioner transcends the physical and mental drives. In the R.C. priesthood in particular, the guys are supposed to direct their thoughts, feelings, energies and actions to the service of God, the Church and their parishioners (and sometimes their orders or specific causes). That's supposed to happen all day, every day and to become that life of holiness.

Well, in the few centuries since celibacy became mandatory, that endless ideal seems to have escaped the capability of many, if not most, of this group. Forgive my incredulity, Cardinal, but a three-part strategy to refocus seems scant ammunition and weaponry in a relentless battle against very human needs.


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Friday, March 26, 2010

Self-Regulation? Bah!

It's not just the Pope. Think cops, doctors and many other.

A massively systemic problem is that nobody wants any outsider to judge their action. Some have variations on the theme, like Vatican pols declaring that criminal prosecution of clerical child abuse would violate their necessary independence. Police in Boston successfully stave off civilian review boards while letting errant cops slide. More typically, it's doctors and accountants and finance pros saying they are the only ones knowledgeable and fair enough to monitor their professions.

It may be one-ended separation of church and state (with the church only wanting government hands off while it can dally in politics as it sees fit and avoid taxes) or disciplinary hearings that send incompetents from one state or locale to a different one instead of removing them. The response to the obvious that self-policing hardly ever works commonly is that outsider intervention is some form of fascism, socialism, totalitarianism or some other bad, bad ism.

Yet, the effect is the same. Clerics may the the most prevalent, doctors the most lethal and financial pros the most economically destructive. What their wild-in-the-woods behavior ends up doing is hurting larger society in the name of some form of liberty.

I confess, self-regulation is a sweet, enticing concept. It would work like:
  • Those who know their profession best would set rules of conduct and performance.
  • They would choose or elect an elite subgroup to act as mediators, judges and prosecutors.
  • They would swiftly and surely require any necessary retraining, probation or removal of the bad members.
  • Their profession would be so honorable that we all would have faith in it.
So, what do you think? How does that work for priests, physicians and police? When they investigated complaints about their people, do you believe they, as Bob Dylan sang, "handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance"?

Of course not!

While cops are notorious for protecting their own, they are far from the only dishonorable club when it comes to self-regulation. Medical boards are apparently just as bad and surely literally and figuratively bury more sins than the police. While doctors continue to scream about the brutal unfairness of high malpractice insurance, they blame only rapacious lawyers and patients, never themselves as individuals or as a group.

Imagine if for police and physicians their overseeing investigators did their jobs. What if an incompetent or malicious cop or doctor got kicked out of the profession or paid any civil cost or criminal penalty for causing death or damage?

Both groups say actual enforcement like that would cripple them, prevent them from doing their jobs. Bovine feces! Cleaning out the incompetents and destructive types in virtually any profession would be goodness, sweetness and light.

Instead, our laws do encourage a litigious society. Where the professions construct and maintain the highest and thickest walls to protect even the worst of their members, those injured attack with lawyers.

Frivolous lawsuits are indeed an expensive national issue. Consider instead how we might prevent them. The solution from the wealthy lawyers who comprise the vast majority of Congress is to limit lawsuit awards for medical malpractice and more. Instead or in addition, how about we demand that self-regulators actually do their job...starting immediately...or be replaced with bodies that will?

Churches, cops and doctors claiming innocent victimhood has gotten pretty old. They need to do their part to clean their own houses.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bending Benedict's Ear


For whatever reason, Pope Benedict XVI has not asked my opinion, even as he is mired in the latest revelations of clergy sex abuse numbering in the thousands...as usual. Pity, as I have my tips on making the Roman Catholic church into also small c catholic, for everyone.

Don't even both backtracking on married priests. Instead, refine celibacy by making it an optional vow. Oh, and permit women priests. Done and done. You're welcome.
Religious disclaimer: I am not and have never been Roman Catholic. I was raised as a Wesley Methodist back when Southern Methodists differed from Southern Baptists mostly is how thoroughly they wet the baby in the initial ritual. Southerners considered us right next to Episcopal, which was right next to Catholic. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and believed in transubstantiation — all the crucial stuff. I got better.
Church politicians from bishops to the top never seem publicly to question either celibacy or male-only priesthood. Certainly Pope Benedict doesn't. A quarter century running what used to be called the Roman Inquisition, may have something to do with creating his inflexible stance.

Most Roman Catholics I know cast a jaundiced eye on those two apects of the church. Yet, even in his most recent not-really-an apology for the thousands of priests who raped children, the Pope never touched on the possibility that sexual abstinence may not work for his guys in dresses. "Trusting in His great mercy towards us, we humbly beg His forgiveness for our own failings" is neither remedial nor prophylactic.

Oddly enough, it might be easier for the Vatican to ease into optional celibacy than to allow women priests. Not only is celibacy a rule and not doctrine, it came to the playbook relatively late.
Background: You can go to a solid source for some history and details, The Catholic Encyclopedia is online for one. Check celibacy, infallibility, and woman for starters. For the latter, women are "in some respects inferior to the male sex, both as regards body and soul" and the justifications go from there. Homosexuals get a better deal, just three years of prayer to ready them for priesthood.
Celibacy is not a light topic nor limited to Roman Catholics. It's just that the vast majority of religions, Eastern and Western and including Anglicans and Episcopals, don't go for it.

As a church rule, celibacy has a basis in a few New Testament verses, mostly on Paul's teachings in passing. Yet, the church didn't mandate a vow of celibacy until 1123 and again in 1139 and 1545 to 1564, to make it stick. It was not a ground upward movement for this rule.

The high-minded say male priests will devote themselves to their church work without the distraction of wife, kids and property. Cynics have long suggested that avoiding property disputes on divorce or death are much stronger drivers for the rule.

Regardless, only the R.C. pols seems to hold that requiring many thousands of men to sublimate sexual urges for their entire adult lives has nothing to do with widespread child abuse in the church. While this again is only a rule and not doctrine, it overlaps with the concept of papal infallibility. The current Pope invariably takes the lead here. Once more, this relatively new concept seems to bite the papacy and larger church repeatedly.

For non-R.C. types, be aware that this doctrine does not claim the current Pope or any previous ones are flawless and omniscient. Rather, from Peter down, the current Pope supposedly has the charismatic ability to infallibly interpret doctrine as needed.

This concept also has some basis in scripture (refer to the Catholic Encyclopedia for starting points), less tenuous than male-only priesthood, but still not specifically stated. Instead, during the Middle Ages, the concept of papal infallibility gained momentum. It was not formal until 1870. To put that in American terms, it's not exactly what the Founding Fathers intended.

Back to Benedict, even someone as rigid as he must know that other churches with married priests and ministers have far less problem with sexual abuse of children or of sexual affairs with adult congregants. His repeatedly supporting the denials of previous Popes and Bishops that there is a link with celibacy puts him at a disadvantage.

As an aside, while I have never had any desire for sex with a cleric, I hear it's quite a common feeling. Priests and ministers I have known have mentioned that adult congregants are forever coming onto them sexually. Many clerics understand the pressures on the numerous disgraced preachers who have succumbed to the offers. Supposedly clerics can be authority figures and opportunities to literally brush up against holiness to pew sitters. Child abuse on the other hand is an opportunistic crime and an extreme abuse of office.

As the Roman Catholic church founders, it is well past time for one of its famous councils to right the ship. Honestly, such fundamental and doctrinaire religion has not been for me since childhood, but I accept that it is for many. For those, optional celibacy and women priests would go a long way to stabilizing the church, to guaranteeing enough dedicated men and women as priests, and to providing a safe and Christian environment for congregants of all ages.

If Benedict XVI gives me a jingle, I'll be happy to discuss those with him. We can hold same-sex marriage for another conversation.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Lessons from Last Night

Finally, we'll have rudimentary health-care reform! As I so often ask my boys, "What can we learn from this?" I suggest:
  • Worst Fears. Many Republicans and all corporations-over-people types are right. This is only the beginning. Within a decade, such key work as forcing drug companies, hospitals, doctors and insurers to justify costs and stop profiteering on the public will be in earnest. That's when health-care as a percent of income will drop.
  • Run Ahead Now. This 2010 mid-term election is the right's only chance. They'd better grab every Congressional seat they can. When the public sees first how benign this reform is and projects its benefits, the Republican fantasy of a quick return to power will evaporate like water on a hot griddle. They've simply run out of disproved lies and failed predictions.
  • Girded Loins. Over in the Senate, Harry Reid is still a milquetoast, but in the House, Nancy Pelosi, and nearby Barack Obama seemed to have lost their squeaks. Both have been and will continue to be emboldened by accomplishment and the power of courage. We should expect more powerful and meaningful legislation.
This reform move is at once decades overdue and a fine foundation for a building that needs tremendous work. We should keep in mind that it was possible only because of the foolish and unmitigated (and underregulated) greed of the insurers and medical community. They figuratively bleed those they arrogantly claimed to protect.

Now comes the latest version of the scary fairy tales from the right. The NY Times editorial on the bill passage gives a nice rundown of the reform's benefits and how we can expect GOP pols to lie about them. Short term, they can pretend this will increase the deficit, while it surely will do the opposite. Even after reality yet again shows them liars, they closest they are apt to come to apology or cleaning up their dishonorable ways will be to claim that conditions have changed or even more absurdly that they forced tweaks that made thing better.

The true pathos here is that the Congressional Republicans (with a few DINOs, like my Rep. Stephen Lynch, who needs to go down to defeat) voted against the reform. That is, in the face of this incredible health-care crisis and chronic malaise, they spit on the public. In some misguided display of party solidarity, they would vote only to stymie Dems and not to help the public.

This is a thorny, verminous, filthy bed they have made for themselves. They had best get what advantage they can this year. All but the most delusional of the voters will see how horribly wrong they were before 2012. They stand on the public stage with unbelievable, repetitive dialog.

They need a new script. It should include a lot less praise of the worst corporations and a lot more care of Americans.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Lean on Lynch Now

A small embarrassment in my life is suddenly unbearable. Congressman Stephen Lynch is playing the reactionary card again, this time in league with the worst in the House...to try to defeat health-care reform.

Contact his office today or tomorrow to make sure he understands how this is not acceptable. Of course, I have done so.

You can call any of his offices:
  • 202-225-8273
  • 617-428-2000
  • 508-586-5555

You can write to him on the Congress site (for some queer reason, requiring the plus 4 of your ZIP):


You can root around his website too. There, you will definitely not find his latest lame excuses for trying to scuttle reform. Bizarrely enough, you can get his justifications for voting in favor the previous time this came to a vote.

Is he so dull that he can't see that the pros still outweigh his niggles?

I promised to praise a yes vote and campaign against his reelection for a no. Go and do likewise.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Even AGs Learn


Raw, sometimes insightful, sometimes amusing politics often appear in the Boston Herald. Today's gem is a short piece on how Martha Coakley owns her major oversight in his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat — not talking, mingling, glad-handing and otherwise exposing herself during the race.

In fact, from the outside, it looked like Scott Brown was racing and she was in the pit.

She told the tab's Jessica van Sack, "(Voters) felt they wanted to send someone to Washington who they felt earned the race. I’m willing to acknowledge that. The lessons of it are there, and will be for a long time."

Now, she's running for re-election as attorney general. She's already trying to apply those lessons. Two intriguing aspects of that will be:
  • Can she transcend her nature and really campaign?
  • Will the same short-term strategy that worked for Brown do the same on Nov. 2, 2010?
There's a slim chance another Dem will force an October primary for this slot. No one has announced so far.

Normally she could relax and stay as introverted and unexposed as she did in the special election for Senate. So far, her only opposition is Jack E. Robinson. Yes, that is the addicted-to-running-for-something buffoonish lawyer who loses everything and makes fellow Republicans cringe.

Her opening message on the campaign site does not mention how she blew the Senate race. Instead, she pitches what a valiant, successful and relentless fighter she is for the commonwealth's citizens. In typical miss-two-beats style, Robinson's site as of this morning still has him running for that Senate seat in his meet-the-candidate message. We assume that as he filed for the AG slot and endorsed Brown on that same site that he knows he lost that in his party's primary a few months ago.

Coakley says she won't take the race for granted...this time. The Herald article rubs that in with a quote from a Newton Whole Foods shopper seeing her in the store — "It’s great she comes out and meets people. I wonder if there had been more of that if the result would have been different."

Here's betting that Coakley wins, but that she won't do it in a new persona. She won't transform herself into a gregarious professional pol.

One of the few amusing comments from her during the Senate campaign was how amusing she and her friends think she is. She truly isn't and may not be capable of being. It's telling when you have to say how funny you are.

Her other delusion is a professional hazard. It seems virtually all state attorneys general see themselves very differently from the views of voters. The phrase chief law-enforcement officer weighs as heavily as a two-pound badge. The AG seems to feel like some frontier marshal, a Matt Dillon character (as in Gunsmoke and not the shaved-chested current actor). There's also the pretense to the crusading image of an AG, like Eliot Spitzer before his fall or Teddy Roosevelt when he was NYC's police commissioner. Finally, they imagine that voters think the AG personally is responsible for all the good the office does, as in consumer protection.

Looking at how AGs fare in trying to step up in office, they and maybe some of their paid minions may be the only ones who see them in such grand and heroic terms. Instead, Coakley's best case may be the direct one. Tell us what a good job her office has done, particularly in consumer protection. Then say, "Send me back for more of the same."

For the public interface, Coakley will need a shift here...even beyond going to granola supermarkets to greet rich voters. She needs to continue with a lot more interviews, big and little, along the lines of the Herald one.

Both in public appearances and avoiding media, she earned her reputation as indifferent, unemotional and close-mouthed. The flair of candor she just showed is what she needs to do daily.

For our wee example, Left Ahead! was one of many new and old media types Coakley rebuffed and ignored during the Senate race. We're not all that important, but we have run a weekly show for three years and folk like our Governor, LG and Sen. John Kerry think we're worth speaking too. Their attitude maybe just that it can't hurt and may help.

In contrast to other pols, over a dozen phone and email requests received zero response from her campaign, directed to numerous folk including her campaign manager. In contrast, she might have noted that Gov. Deval Patrick spoke with everyone of various sizes and media types in his run for office. It's the way 21st Century pols do it successfully.

I'll be watching this race. Can she go beyond her nature? Will she get a decent challenger? Will the open style, should she pull it off, work in this less powerful and far less controversial race?

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Boston Schools Death March

Color me skeptical. At last night’s Boston schools budget hearing, the big shots weren’t talking and ranting or begging students and parents may have been bellowing into the wilderness.

As City Councilor John Connolly so candidly described it, the details of the school budget are fungible. He is in his third year of the messiest job on Council, chair of the education committee. He admitted he didn’t get the big and small pictures on his first go and that he was too gentle and accommodating on the second. He thinks he may get it right this time. He’d better — this year and at least the next two are ones of triage.

We’re in the middle of a seven-week sprint. The Boston School Committee must present a balanced budget by the last Wednesday in March, working with figures their bank, that being the city, provides. At about a third of Boston’s budget, schools are the biggest chunk and get the most attention and hearings.

The City presents its budget to the Council, in theory for an up or down vote. Along the way in both processes, there are numerous public hearings and a few votes. Apparently, there’s much politicking and dickering.

Very Personal Experiences

I’ve been knocked around by the BPS for 25 years, from when our first of three sons headed to the Quincy School. He and his next brother were whittled into advanced work kids and jammed through BLS. The youngest is finishing BLA.

Along the way, my wife and I struggled mightily and frequently to get them in decent schools in a system that had from terrible to superb. We worked through the quirks and arrogance of numerous iterations of elected or appointed school committees and the often meaningless bluster and promises of yet another superintendent. Worst was dealing with Court Street to discover the current set of tricks required for the right school assignments. We had to move repeatedly in the early years for placement; no parent should ever have to do that.

We would hear how equitable assignments are, how this school was as good as that, and other lies. We would call Court Street for information, such as when assignments would be decided, only to get radically different dates, apparently on the whim of who was answering the phones.

We heard repeatedly from Court Street employees we knew as well as activist parents at one school or another that it was whom you knew. If you were involved in volunteering and the school parent council, you had an in for assignments. The Committee swore that was impossible, but we could see who got the assignments.

I earned my cynicism about the BPS system.

End Game(s)

The schools and city budgets aren’t finalized. It’s likely that it will be the last week of June before deadline on the 30th that the nits and grits are done. The pot is fixed but who gets what is not.

In the meanwhile, two more school hearings are on tap. Monday, 3/15, at 6 p.m. at Madison Park High will be a public hearing like the one I went to yesterday at Boston English. Then on Wednesday, 3/24, at Court Street, at 5 p.m. will be another short one before the 6 p.m. Committee meeting.

There my skepticism fairly hoots. The 3/24 meeting is when the Committee votes on the budget. So tell me on a scale of 1,000 whether it is likely to change at all in the last hour, on say a level of 1 or 2 of that 1,0000. Horse feathers!

At his gutsy BLA parent-council presentation, Connolly was frank about the process. Several of the parents there noted how disparate the individual schools’ budgets and cuts were, hitting BLA much harder than many. Connolly said there were lots of tweaks within the amounts proposed in the seven-week process. He noted that the best chance a school’s parents had was to go to the hearings and testify, ideally en masse or a long sequence (think 25 parents).

He also told me that both district and at-large councilors form alliances and cut deals for various programs and schools. He didn’t say it, but likewise it sounds like a lot of action takes place in city-hall offices, coffee shops and small meetings.

That is the way of politics everywhere and we should not delude ourselves into thinking an academic tie changes that.

I recall much worse years ago in South Carolina. At the state house there, it was amusing to see the school groups making their class trips, back in the day when kids got civics classes. They’d come into a chamber or a combined session to see government in action. When there was a big bill with heavy political or economic consequences, they wanted to see orators at the best. Invariably, the bill would get a quick, often unanimous, vote one way or the other. The kids were stunned, leaving with their what-just-happened faces.

Truth be told, the bills were decided at backyard pig roasts and other private venues. It was a done deal before the gavel hit the brass plate on the wooden block.

This is moderately cleaner here and now, but not all that different from what I see. At the very least, the proposed budget, as well as the hearings and other key dates appear on the Committee site.

Grim Choices

BPS Chief Financial Officer John (Jack) McDonough sprinted through a shortened version of the budget last evening. The previous day, he had gone into more detail at a presentation at the Committee’s regular meeting.

He’s not quite as flat in delivery as the cartoon Droopy, but McDonough has the stereotypical CPA’s monotone down pat. He also looks like he could be a mortician as well, which adds to the measured effect.

The facts include, as Connolly told the BLA group, the schools are screwed financially short and mid term. Yes, the city, state, federal and foundation contributions are down. Moreover, we have spent over half the federal stimulus money last fiscal year and will do the rest in FY2011 in the works.

This year, a balanced budget will only be within reach because of accommodations. At the state level, Gov. Deval Patrick pledged level funding for education. Likewise, Boston Mayor Tom Menino rolled back a demand that BPS cut over 1% of its budget (about $8.2 million) this year.

Apparently, the Committee is always a bit of a Henny Penny, squawking about falling skies and huge deficits…only to miraculously come up with a salvaged budget through great effort. Unfortunately, last year, that did catch up to numerous schools.

At BLA for example, they lost five teachers and one administrator. Among other fallout is the loss of the creative-writing program, a hallmark of the school, which has climbed to some of the nation’s best English test scores. It also means that 8th and 10th graders generally have two study (no classes, kiddies) periods out of seven classes a day — a lot less education for the bucks.

The big question now is when the Committee is going to shut down schools. Hyde Park Councilor Rob Consalvo said that would be too negative, too disruptive. Don’t count on that.

The Committee works with a figure of 4,500 “empty seats” in the system. At the same time, many classes are at their maximum of 30 students, a level a lot of teachers said is too high to do the job right. Yet, the idea is that each seat costs the BPS $4,000 a year, so moving folk around would solve that, and by implication necessarily require closing schools, canning staff and saving all around.

Last evening, Committee Member Mary Tamer said it was time to talk about closings and get the process in the works. Otherwise those on the dais didn’t say much meaningful.

Superintendent Carol Johnson directed a couple of speakers, students and parents, to some staff in the room, but made no policy statements nor answered any of the tricky questions presented. Her solution might address individual concern ( or not) but did not get into the hard topics or reveal any policy. That was a finger in the dike.

Committee Chair Gregory Groover likewise was very politic and close mouthed. He did do something meaningful, which those attending Monday’s hearing may get the benefit from — asked CFO McDonough to produce an addition cut at the proposed budget that shows what real people and plant impacts the cuts will have per school and line item.

Surprisingly after all the hoo-ha yesterday, the hearing was sparsely attended. The only other Committee member was Michael O’Neill. The only politicians represented were Councilor Chuck Turner, and staff from Rep. Liz Malia and Connolly. Perhaps 100 parents and students were in the audience.The large auditorium looked like a scattered room where people were afraid to catch flu from each other.

By the bye, the education committee comprises Chair Connolly, Vice Chair Turner, Consalvo, Ayanna Pressley, Steve Murphy, Sal LaMattina, and John Tobin. I figured all should have been there or had minions present.

More Equal than Others

Backing up what the BLA parents complained about last week, the detailed proposed budget by department and school showed those disparities. (I don’t see that online, but I picked up a copy at yesterday’s meeting.)

On the face of it, BLA parent council representative Christopher Carter nailed it. He said there was no rhyme or reason to the inequities among schools. Some have already been hit hard and will be again. Others are untouched or augmented.

Connolly noted in his presentation to BLA that some schools have a lot more ELL (English language learner) and SPED (special education) students, among other high-cost populations. Federal mandates mean more per-public costs there. However, to me, even accounting for that, some schools seem better plugged into the politics and finances than others.

Even after last year’s cuts, consider a sampling of those projected by percentage this time:

  • Adams Elementary, plus 9%
  • Blackstone Elementary, -5%
  • BTU Pilot, plus 18%
  • Hale Elementary, -6%
  • Hennigan Elementary, -1%
  • Mozart Elementary, level
  • Murphy Elementary, -5%
  • Boston Middle School Academy, -13%
  • Boston Latin School, -1%
  • Boston Latin Academy, -6%
  • West Roxbury High, level

You can see from these and similar figures why many parents are angry and are skeptical about Committee claims of fairness and shared sacrifice.

In addition, even before getting to school-closing conversations, other budget measures include severely cutting custodial staff, deferring physical plant maintenance, and outsourcing food service. Already, administrators have forgone raises.

Another nasty wild card to hit the table will be teachers’ union deals. Collective bargaining will occur this summer, after the budget starts. That promises to be rougher than this budget process. Teachers can match Committee and superintendent whining note for note. This could be the battle of the drama queens, each singing that she only has the best interest of the students at heart.

I think back to Connolly. I sure don’t envy his chairing the education committee. Yet, I spoke with his policy director, Jamie Langowski, last evening before the hearing. She iterated what he had told me several times, he loves this. He understands how important education in general and this budgeting in crisis in particular are. He wants to be part of making it the best we can get under the circumstances. Good on him.


Cross-post note: This appears at Harrumph.

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Cross-post note: This appears at Harrumph.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Year Ending in 0? Count 'em!

Those fussbudgets in their wig and stocking drag were plenty wise. In respect for the considered insight that led to the decennial national census:
  • Fill out and return your form as soon as you get it
  • Gently chat it up with coworkers, buddies and such
Likely between 20% and 25% of us won't return the form. That means we shall pay many millions to have temps workers track them down in person or by phone to get those data. Of course, the U.S. Census Bureau is already in groceries and public places pitching how a full, accurate count allocated federal legislators and dollars fairly among states.

They've been at this since 1790 and are really into it.

For those of us who perform this wee duty quickly, we can be surprised by how many Americans don't. I have a rant on my long-ago, college-days experiences taking follow-up census over at Harrumph.

My encounters probably still hold. I found that various families:
  • Never opened the mailing from the Census, ID'ing it as junk mail and tossing it
  • Just couldn't be bothered
  • Didn't understand what it was about
  • Had forgotten in the past decade or two or three or more what the census was
All unbelievable and lame excuses, right? Well, no. As one of my favorite Lenny Bruce quotes runs, "There is only what is and that's it. What should be is a dirty lie."

Many of us don't mail back the form. Maybe you can nudge a bit here.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Capital Idea That SSM

We can gather a few wee lessons from the relatively speedy implementation of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. To wit:
  • The anti-GLBT forces don't always get their rollbacks.
  • Those forces continue to spit on democratic process as well as civil rights, trying every damned trick they can.
  • The Supreme Court is a bunch of lawyers who really get into minutiae and view details literally.
  • The struggle for nationwide SSM will, in fact, take decades to win.
  • One of the relentless lies of the anti folk is the terror of new marriage license wording, simply handled on D.C.'s new form with "applicant" and "spouse" in the entries. So there.
Oddly enough, the most recent little (but important) victory for the good guys came through Chief Justice John Roberts. He turned down the now familiar let-the-people-vote plea from the anti-gay suers. Finding no legal basis for stopping SSM from becoming law in D.C., their last effort after losing in lower courts was to plea for a ballot initiative. Of course, they said they wanted the chance to pass a one-man/one-woman marriage definition.

In a 3-pager, Roberts rejected the request, but on picayune legal grounds. That is, the district's charter does allow referenda. Unfortunately for the haters, any referendum cannot violate any discrimination provision of the D.C. Human Rights Act. That specifically includes sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (Section 2-1401.01).

Also, because of the atavistic and paternalistic relationship with the U.S. Congress, they could have stopped implementation. Roberts noted that Congress chose not to act.

So, we have five states and the federal district standing up for marriage equality, for human equality. A radio report said over 100 D.C. couples lined up before the offices open to join the true pro-marriage forces by getting licenses.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Dukakis Gets Real on Rail

The Duke feels strongly about mass transit and intercity rail. Speaking with us on Left Ahead! today, he was delightfully candid and brimming with specific fixes.

Click the player below to hear the whole show. Head to Left Ahead! or iTunes to download the mp3 file.

Among his analysis was a solution to the crippling debt of our MBTA system. The legislature and previous Republican governors had linked our mass transit's fiscal health to a supposedly endlessly growing sales tax cut. That failed and was a terrible blunder, according to former Gov. Mike Dukakis.

He said he desperately need a workable mass transit. "If you want a first-class public transportation system, you got to pay for it," he added. His more rational solution is adding 6¢ to 9¢ to the long stagnant gas tax, devoting it to the T and commuter rail.

In addition to stopping the every-few-year rises in fares and garnering the huge environmental and other obvious benefits of fewer cars, he sees another huge plus. Maintaining and expanding the various rail systems would create thousands of good-paying jobs at at time we need them most. He cited the 10¢ gas tax bump when he was governor. His administration, he said, "turned it into a jobs bill, which it was."

Listen in to hear what he likes and dislikes about the current efforts. See also his co-authored piece on transportation reform that appeared in the Boston Globe. He has a very different take on the best way to manage it all, which he explains in the podcast as well.




Cross-post note: I'll duplicate this at Harrumph!

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Take a Hike, Take a Trolley

Our own Duke, former MA Gov. Mike Dukakis, joins us on Left Ahead! tomorrow for a show on one of his passions, mass transit. He is a well-informed, well-intentioned and tireless advocate of moving from here to there in quiet, efficient, affordable, safe, environmentally friendly ways.

The live stream will be on Tuesday, 3/2/10 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. You can catch it here then. Anytime after, it's at that URL, at Left Ahead! or on iTunes.

The literally walk-it-like-I-talk-it Duke is known for hoofing it when practical and taking the T for long distances or in bad weather. The unpretentious ex-Gov. also typically picks up trash and deposits it in the city cans along the way.

He and I on occasion agree on concepts and differ on implementation, as noted in this post. We'll let him talk about what would turn the nation's oldest subway into a component of the best mass-transit system.

By the bye, he's also strong on getting some reason in U.S. transportation funds. At last fall's Rail-Volution conference, he spoke of the urgency for federal support for mass transit along the lines that highways have gotten for over 50 years.

Video Note: The Duke speaks on the history of the T here. He is about 6:45 seconds into the video of the Friday, noon, plenary session.

Listen to to a transit champion.

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