Saturday, February 26, 2011

SSM in NH, WTF?

LGBT activist and observer John Hosty-Grinnell joins us on Left Ahead! this week to discuss New Hampshire...not skiing, rather the GOP majority legislature's effort to rip away same-sex marriage.

He's on at 2:30 PM Eastern, Tuesday, March 1st. Join us then for the live stream. If you can't listen then, return to that URL or to Left Ahead! later to listen or download the session on demand.

John has been active as a principal in KnowThyNeighbor and runs the Live, Love and Learn blog. His personal experience in SSM includes being a married gay man.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama Dumps DOMA, Quivers on SSM

Word is (click vid below for short press announcement) that the DOJ won't actively defend challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). President Obama says those are wasted efforts on an unconstitutional law.

The White House press release detailing the reasoning is here. Other parties will also certainly press this issue to the SCOTUS. Marriage-equality supporters have long gone from terror that this might happen to welcoming a resolution, one they believe will dump DOMA.

On the other hand, Obama has not joined the bulk of progressive, liberal and centrist Americans who see SSM as the right thing, banning SSM as a violation of civil rights. Oddly and anachronistically enough, he clings to trying to make civil unions into something they are not and frets about whether homosexual marriage is acceptable in light of his very personal religious upbringing.

For a bright guy, that's sad.


Evening Update: Gov. Deval Patrick cheers his friend Obama's decision. Maybe he can convince the Prez to get with the program on real marriage equality. The Globe quotes Patrick as:

I am tremendously heartened today by President Obama’s decision to turn away from this divisive and unfair law. In Massachusetts, we believe that every person ought to be able to marry whomever they love, and we believe the rest of the country is moving forward in that direction, too.


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'scansin Scam


No deep digging required into the metaphor mine here. How about throwing out the baby with the bathwater for WI Gov. Scott Walker's melodrama?

(We're hitting this for a half hour today, 2/23 at 2:30 PM Easter at Left Ahead! Also, this pic is from MA statehouse demo supporting WI public workers.)

Even the fiscally conservative and revolution-adverse Financial Times (requires free registration) editorializes that the union-busting ploys of Walker are disingenuous, a pretense. Instead, it calls for keeping public-union collective bargaining and dickering on the benefits end of the packages, the substance.

Walker seems flushed with excitement and eager to lead the most rabid wingers here. Lackaday, he illogically posits that it is not the wealthiest and the biggest corporations who caused the massive and stifling recession. He would have it that the essential teachers and public functionaries are to blame for, well, getting paid for what they do.

Insisting in the face of statewide protests and open disdain that he is not only right, but intractable, he can only lose. That's good for nearly everyone else, but does not address the issues.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Earful in Concord

The newly ensconced GOP supermajorities in New Hampshire are ready to rip out marriage equality — at least in theory. After about 700 folk came to public hearings on a bill to repeal same-sex marriage, they did duck for a year, pretending that the economy required 100% of their time.

They'll debate and vote next year, the Republican leaders say.

There are many things wrong and un-American about pulling back civil rights. Whether they are granted by plebiscite, legislature, courts or executive order, re-discriminating is antithetical to how this nation likes to portray itself. You know, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...note the middle one.

One of our local stalwarts for equality of all types, John Hosty-Grinnell tweeted throughout the day. He was there and eventually got to testify. I'm sure he'll post on it at this blog or elsewhere.

Of course, the obvious takeaways include:
  • There will remain people relentless in their desire to rob others of rights they have.
  • Even after the long-term successful incorporation of SSM here, a small group of folk grumble and plot.
  • The large anti-LGBT types like NOM will spend all their money and time lying about SSM, as their chair Maggie Gallagher did yesterday in NH.
  • Until the DOMA is scrapped, there will be pressure from the top as well as the bottom to take rights away or allow states to justify not granting them.
  • The not-all-that-bright, including lawmakers, continue to conflate their churches' rituals with civil marriage.
  • Silly wrinkles like forbidding all marriages and allowing only civil commitments solve nothing and please no one.
  • The huge insult to adoptive parents, the infertile and those who choose not to bear children will continue to be injected in the debate as though it was meaningful.
In short, the immediate need in NH is to beat back the attempt to take away existing rights from citizens. Meanwhile, there is a decent chance in Rhode Island, Maryland and maybe New York for marriage equality this year. If it is also re-instituted in California in the next year or two, the preponderance of the population will couple with the obvious — that SSM harm no one and helps some immensely.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weaving Threads from Tuesday's Vote

Good results can come from terrible processes. That appears to be what is in the works in the special election to replace Chuck Turner as District 7 Boston City Councilor.

Despite hand-wringingly poor voter turnout in Tuesday's preliminary, we are headed to next month's final with the two candidates most of us predicted, Tito Jackson and Cornell Mills. Any effort, including this one, to draw conclusions must be suspect.

Two striking stats were obvious though. First, Jackson got over two-thirds of all vote in a field of six on ballot and one declared write-in. Second, only 1 of 14 registered voters in the District smeared an oval.

The not-yet-certified results from the city site are:

CandidateVotesPercent
TITO JACKSON1,94367.33
CORNELL MILLS2719.39
DANIELLE R WILLIAMS2588.94
ALTHEA GARRISON1505.20
NATALIE E CARITHERS963.33
ROY OWENS893.08
Write-ins792.74

That included 31 precincts, with 40,985 registered voters. The 2,886 ballots cast represent 7.04% pool.

Mitigating factors to those of us scandalized by such low-show elections include:
  • Damned cold. The windy day had very low wind chill air.
  • Short cycle. Candidates had under two months to get on the ballot and campaign and otherwise differentiate themselves to the voters.
  • Crowded field. Seven declared candidates, with six on the ballot, made the debate-esque public forums tough for voters to pick a favorite.
  • Single race. This special had the one office and no questions. There was no citywide, statewide or national, highly advertised battle to draw people to the polls. Such specials generally have low turnout.
From another angle though, the District's voters should have been pumped for this. Turner was an extremely popular pol, his fall toward prison was well publicized (even here), several hundred of his supporters rallied repeatedly for him including at his expulsion hearing in December, and much noise was made at City Hall plaza when he was ousted that there would be election repercussions for this race and for the next two re-election efforts of those 11 of 12 Councilors who voted to remove him.

From yet another angle, Turner had asked Jackson to run if he lost his seat. Many voters who were aware of this special may have figured they were covered and all was well.

With such publicity, really starting two years ago, voters had lots of time to see this election coming. Most of the seven candidates really put out too. They likely had calloused knuckles and fingertips from door knocking and bell ringing. They were everywhere, including at solo and group public appearances.

Former state Rep. Althea Garrison was pretty much a no-show, apparently running yet another vanity/visibility race. Likewise, Roy Owens always seems to get modified with perennial candidate and pretty much limits himself to the usual suspects as voters in announcing that all the District and world ills are the result of abortion.

However, write-in Haywood Fennell as well as the other four on-ballot candidates put out for the race. They offered some real choices and had clear personality distinctions.

While it's risky to draw too many conclusions from such a small voter set, consider:
  • Huge win. Jackson's 67% nearly guarantees his victory on 3/15 in the final. Mills is the other preliminary survivor but voters are likely to go with the seeming sure winner. Mills, however, is not deterred and I am sure he'll take it to voters right up to 8 p.m. election night.
Humility note: I admit that in response to the Phoenix' David Bernstein surmised on Facebook that Jackson might win over 50%, I commented that was unlikely to happen with seven candidates.
  • Loyalists: While Carithers is well known for her work with Rep. Willie Mae Allen, she was sandwiched between Garrison and Owens in returns...and Garrison wasn't really running. On the platform, Carithers had it together, sounded good, and hit the right issues. This sub-result suggests voters weren't really plugged into this race.
  • Close second: Williams almost beat Mills. She is a long-time activist (then again, so is Fennell) and moderately well known.Yet, Mills has real presence and confidence, and while it is too heavy on crime, his platform tries to address District concerns. I am not sure what it means that he got lost in the scrum.
It would be great to feel comfortable drawing sweeping conclusions from this preliminary. The new conventional wisdom is that Jackson owns this race. Likewise, unless he really goofs up, the full term coming up for vote this fall is his, even if Mills, Williams or someone else makes another or a new go at it.

Tenuously, we might also conclude that Jackson's insertion will quickly mute the anger of Turner supporters and conspiratorialists. Their fury at the expulsion hearing was toward not the whole Council, rather two at-large members of color who voted in the 11-1 ouster.

The threats to defeat them in the fall seem hollow. Not only is that nearly a year away, during which time, the new Councilor will be doing his do and mollifying folk, but the pair is, after all, at-large/citywide. Honestly, if District 7 can't get it together to vote for Turner's replacement, the idea that a small set can turn the city into avengers is absurd.

PM Follow-Up: Callie Crossley started her show with a segment on the election. One of her panel noted that Jackson had a message and recognition out before the election gelled.


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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Turner Re-tells His Truth

Nice get by Commonwealth Magazine — a post-sentencing Chuck Turner interview. Truth be told though, I expected something new, some insights. Nah.

For the positive, ex-Boston City Councilor Turner remains consistent in claiming innocence of taking a bribe and lying to the feds about it. For the negative, the story as he tells it still isn't credible.

Colman Herman wrote the piece. His is noted for such as winning a class-action suit about unpriced items and for kicking the Bay State Banner down the hall for supporting Mayor Tom Menino. I'm not sure any other of us would have come up with more revealing questions for Turner, but Herman certainly stuck to the predictable.

He did tie in the Banner by quoting the publisher/editor Melvin Miller as saying Turner had made mistakes you'd expect from an old man. He quotes Turner as thinking Miller was trying to help and that he was his usual patronizing self.

Otherwise, it's a rehash of stale coverage. The only wrinkle is a wee one. He iterated that he would not run for office when he got out of prison after his three-year sentence, with the nuance being, "...although I think I probably could be elected in my community.

Back on this planet, it will almost certainly be Tito Jackson taking the District 7 seat in the special election 3/15 and barring anything stupid and surprising, for a full two-year term in the regular in November. For Turner meanwhile, it is messy details to be decided:
  • Will he get to keep his full pension or just what he put in with interest?
  • Will the SJC rule that the Council had the right to expel him in December, or if not not, award him back pay for about six weeks between that and 1/25 sentencing?
More broadly, I am not at all convinced that the small cadre of Turner fans will be able to follow through with their threats to punish the expellers (that is the whole Council except for Charles Yancey). More narrowly, despite the obvious sincere remarks at the special meeting in December, will newish Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo the younger suffer for voting with the others to oust Turner?

I was at that meeting and remain stunned recalling the vitriol directed that the pair. The screams and chants of "Shame!" and calls about the next election were at once cruel and rawly emotional. The people behind and beside me yelling made it plain at high volume that they were outraged that a Latino and black woman would dare vote against a black man...pure color identity.

Yet, both Pressley and Arroyo were plain too, in softer tones. They were voting their conscience, something they learned by lesson and example from Chuck Turner.

By the time Turner returns, his legacy may get a bit of burnishing. After all, he set the modern standard for constituent services. Plus, he hand-picked Tito Jackson to run for his spot. As such, what the new accomplishes will reflect positively on the old. The felony convictions might end up being a footnote.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Word and Word Again on District 7

Regular readers know I'm not whole lot for posts that mainly point. Today's the exception, as two analyses of the District 7 City Councilor race are damned good.

Look to the always thorough Gintautas Dumcius at the Dorchester News for his recap on six of the seven candidates here.

Over at the Globe, columnist Lawrence Harmon contrasts the two presumed leaders, Tito Jackson and Cornell Mills here.

Between these, you can learn plenty about the minds, backgrounds and emotions of the candidates. Note that neither mentions one, Althea Garrison. She has been a stealth candidate for this race. I had the same problem in covering the forum at the Roxbury Y here and here, when she didn't show.

The preliminary election is this Tuesday, 2/15, and the final in the special a month later, 3/15, pitting the top two vote getters. Then the winner may just keep on running and hope short-term incumbency means something, as the slot is up for the regular election in the fall.

This is not my district, but I shouldn't let that stop me from holding forth. Tito Jackson is the answer. He is the most balanced candidate and thus the one most likely to deliver for the constituents.

This is literally his neighborhood, inside him as well as were he lives. He understands and has considerable experience in constituent service and has the added advantage of being plugged in at the city and state level — you know, where they make the policy and money decisions. Moreover, he has specific goals and plans for accomplishing them.

Mills is a formidable opponent. However, he is dreadfully one-dimensional. No one denies that youth and other street crime is a huge problem in District 7. Given his personal background as well as his professional experience, we can understand why he makes that his top priority. However, he really has little to say on education or almost anything else except for a bit on stopping foreclosures in the district. He's too narrowly focused for a wide-ranging job.

In contrast, Natalie Carithers seems like she'd be great on constituent services. As a disclaimer, she helped me file a bill when she worked for Rep. Willie Mae Allen; I'm prejudiced here. I don't see real policies from her. Also, she talks a loud, repetitive rap about how she's a fighter. That makes for good theater, but it could be counterproductive in choosing to butt heads with the major and his minions.

Personally, I like Haywood Fennell. He is the brightest and wittiest and best read of the bunch. He too does not have a broad set of policies and goals. He's worked a long time on veterans rights and benefits. It shows. He's also a write-in and likely has little oomph to get voters to the polls with stickers for him.

Danielle Renee Williams is a do-gooder activist. She also doesn't have much of a program and parrots the major concerns of the district with no path out of the troubles.

Roy Owens is not only in left field, he's also playing a totally different game from the real candidates. He runs for this or that and always gets his few hundred votes. That's likely to be less in this special with no other races or issues on the ballot. His only real platform is stopping abortion, to which he attributes literally all ills of Boston's African-American citizens. 'nuff said.

I think Jackson should be Chuck Turner's replacement. If the other top candidate in the preliminary is Mills or Carithers, the month to the final would feature lots of debates or debate-like-events where they flesh out their platforms. That would be a terrific disadvantage for the one-issue Mills. Either way, voters could also weigh the brusque and macho presentation of Mills against the self-defined scrappy Carithers or against the charming, smooth and connected Jackson.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rampant MA Party Optimism

This week another in the remarkable Suffolk's Rappaport Center series had machers from the two major MA parties on stage. It sort of fulfilled the teaser of lessons learned from the campaign trail. There were s few insights, many laughs, and a strong promise of better battles in the works.

Big of body and voice, Dem party chair John Walsh (left) delivered the best lines, got the loudest laughs, and seemed most in touch with reality. His GOP counterpart, Jennifer Nassour (right), seemed plenty bright, reasonably candid, and buoyed by both the January Scott Brown win and a solid increase in local office and MA House seats.

Each was backed up by a major strategist. For Walsh, it was Sydney Asbury, Gov. Deval Patrick's deputy chief of staff, and a key campaign player. For Nassour, it was Robert Willington, who did strategy and web for Brown's campaign from his Swiftcurrent Strategies. He was also former exec of the MA GOP.

The hour-plus was refreshingly candid, if fairly shallow. The two moderators,reporters Scott Helman from the Globe and Alison King from NECN, kind of got in the way. They had a few idées fixe, which they kept revisiting, and sometimes seemed shills for the GOP. In the main though, Walsh and Nassour carried the session back to meaningful comments.

Flensed to the skeleton, the session dig get down to the apparent contradiction. How could a Republican snatch Ted Kennedy's seat in January and then the GOP lose all statewide elections 10 months later?

Walsh was plain about the Brown victory/Dem loss. He said he felt "a personal responsibility for losing Ted Kennedy's seat." He noted that Martha Coakley only came about 5% short, but "it felt like a much bigger loss."

He admitted that this caused considerable soul searching by his party. As Brown's margin mirrored Presidential candidate John McCain's loss, Walsh said, "What Scott Brown got credit for in my book is motivating voters to the polls." He added that Brown's campaign won the "coffee shops...parking lots...neighbors across the fence." Walsh concluded that this was "very annoying because it our (Dems') game."

The lesson here was an obvious one, according to Asbury. She said they told their grassroots organizers, "We couldn't be complacent." She noted both that Brown's January win "shook Democrats in Massachusetts," and that "it was an effective tool for us." MA Dems became focused on getting out their voters in the fall, as Brown had done.

So by this past fall, even knowing of the voter unrest with incumbents and the status quo, the MA Dems were ready. The GOP here did almost double their MA House total from 16 to 31 (of 160) and won some local elections. However, they failed in attacks on all statewide offices, including Governor, lost an MA Senate seat (from 6 to 5 of 40), and were unable to win any U.S. House races. That was in stark contrast to the national results with huge Republican gains.

Still, Nassour managed to keep her post easily among anguished, angry cries of party members. Many found gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker as a great bet for the office. She took the unusual step of writing to the state committee, reminding them of the MA GOP advances in numbers, fund-raising and candidate preparation during his tenure. "Don't give up on us," was the phrase there and in places like an interview with the Herald. She easily won re-election.

At Suffolk, she talked up what seemed like very conventional wisdom for the broad losses in November. She repeatedly cited the power of incumbency and name recognition. She also liked personality and campaign style, as well as hints of if only the GOP had more money. She added that Baker did not have as much money early and spend much of his time on over 500 fund raisers. She contended that had he started earlier and had more money, he could have won and "pulled a lot" of other statewide candidates along with him.

Run your own damn campaign!


We here are aware that MA likes to mix up its governors, throwing in Republican administrations evenly, under the rubric that somehow that would balance an overwhelming Dem legislature. That conveniently ignores the fairly large percentage of DINO lawmakers in the mix. We also have a little over half of our voters unenrolled, belonging to no party. Many of these loudly proclaim they are independents, as though party members were relatively mindless. That makes forecasting vote casting all the more exciting.

Yet, come last November, the GOP did not replicate the Brown win by taking the Governor's office from Patrick. Despite extraordinarily strong commonwealth and national discontent with incumbents, it was Patrick 48%, Baker42%, and Cahill about 10%. So much of the Suffolk session was on how the devil could that have happened?

Nassour had a fascinating cut on that, saying that Patrick was a much better campaigner than governor and Baker woulda, coulda, shoulda been the opposite. The moderators fed into that with one of their beloved ideas, that Baker was cast unfairly as the mean, angry candidate in contrast to Patrick's gracious and pleasant one. Willington jumped in with his beer buddy analogy. He knows Baker, finds him personable and would rather have a beer with him than Patrick. He belabored that for a few examples.

"The beer factor," Willington added, "is a powerful part of politics." He thought a candidate's personality and approachable nature (or not) swayed voters.

Walsh didn't really buy into that. As he put it, "It's a mistake in campaigns to focus overly on personality." Instead, he thought voters were more likely impressed as he had been by Patrick's candor and consistency. He said from the first time he met Patrick, "he said what he believes." While many pundits and strategists might advise against too much frankness, he said it has worked for Patrick, even when he announced that he had raised taxes and what benefits the public would get from them. "He absolutely proved that you can run a campaign on what you believe," said Walsh.

Several on stage said that certainly part of Brown's appeal is that he seems like a likable guy. There was a fair consensus that personality had been huge here. One person didn't quite buy into this. Near the end of the event, Walsh put forth the clear perspective he took away from the wins and losses of the past year. As he put it, "Run your own damn campaign! Don't spend your time thinking about the other guy. Don't take too many lessons from the last one."

Yet Baker had his own baggage. Those on the show did not mention his association with brutal head chopping of employees at Harvard Pilgrim as well as huge premium jumps in his time there. They did get into the Big Dig issue. He downplayed his key roll in the disastrous financing of it and the lack of communication to the public, those who still pay the bills. I am among the many wondering how his campaign might have gone if he had not tried to claim he was a great manager and financial expert, while ignoring what seem like such major problems.

The moderators seemed more consumed with independent gubernatorial Cahill. They plainly felt Baker's campaign had spent far too much effort and money to drive him from the race, unsuccessfully. Nassour disagreed, saying the party was convinced that Baker could not win with him in the contest, while Asbury noted that as Cahill's support waned, the voters pretty much evenly divided their support among Baker and Patrick.

Nassour strongly felt that minimizing Cahill's influence was the right strategy. As she put it, "Time Cahill was not the third wheel. He was a flat tire."

This campaign led to another moderator's idée fixe. Both kept returning to what they clearly had discussed before the session started — a conceit that Patrick is only trying to implement policies that Baker created and pitched in the race.

Walsh and Asbury both were calm in rebutting the contention, but that did not seem to do it for Helman and King. The moderators cited such actions as getting municipalities to reduce health costs by joining the state plan, replacing private attorneys with state ones as public defenders, and reducing the number of state employees. As King put it, "These are really all ideas that Charlie Baker put out front." Later Helman tried to revivify this with questions like, "Was there a disconnect between what Gov. Patrick was campaigning on and what he's petting forward."

Asbury was clearest in returning a few times to disagree. She noted that many of the proposals Baker has made were picking up those already advanced publicly from his office and to the legislature by Patrick. I was a bit surprised she didn't add that it would be fairer to ask whether Baker had simply lifted the governor's ideas and advanced them as his own.

In addressing particulars the moderators advanced, she gave a nice insight into the daily operation of the administration. She said Patrick's second administration has been consistent in advancing just four priorities:
  • Jobs
  • Lowering health costs
  • Youth violence
  • Education
According to Asbury, "every day I would say he'd drive into all of us who are working for him that if it doesn't relate to those four priorities, why are we talking about this?"

Shields up! Arm phasers!


Both sides said they were determined to use all grassroots efforts, including social and other digital media in addition to traditional methods. Also, Asbury noted that a lesson she had learned was that it was crucial to start as early as possible to keep volunteers both engaged and informed.

In response to future plays by Tea Party members and other anti-incumbent types, those on stage said they would be a factor. Willinton for one was quick to note that while Brown has voted with Dems on some issues, the T Party sorts know that overall he was much more to their mindset than Coakley would have been as Senator. "For the most part, Tea Party/center-right people have been pretty supportive," he said.

Walsh did not think their emergence in MA was anything new or that remarkable. He may have gotten the biggest laugh of the afternoon with, "I'm from Plymouth County. We've these crazy people have always been here. We just gave them a name."

For futures, Nassour's optimism is palpable. In addition to the local and legislative seats won, she points to the current GOP volunteer activity. On Saturday before this session, nearly 500 party volunteers met to organize. She thought that was impressive on a bad-weather weekend in a state where they are outnumbered by Dems three to one. Walsh didn't seem worried. He noted that the same weekend over 5,000 from his party met in over 200 caucuses. Another 350 more caucuses are about to follow for his party.

During the session, some questions hung in the air, such as what they expect to happen with the loss of a U.S. House seat. I didn't get to ask Nassour how she said incumbency was the huge factor, yet how was it that her party lost the rare open statewide offices of Treasurer and Auditor.

The cheery takeaway for us political sorts was also from Walsh. He cited the enthusiasm of the Republicans, the drive of Dems to hold on to or expand their power, and the continued pressure of the anti-incumbent voter contingent. "For people who love politics, 2012 is going to be a great year.".

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Impotent or Efficient Boston City Council?

Mark Wolf seems to be having a grand time with the legal issues around ex-Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner's expulsion from the body. He sent a fat order to the MA Supreme Judicial Court.

The Chief Judge of the First U.S. Circuit Court wants our justices to set some precedence on the limits of power of the Council. Like the guy who says, "I have a quick question," when it's bound to be a long one and one requiring considerable trouble, Wolf includes 16 pages of background before those quickies.

Tip of the toupee: Adam over at Universal Hub posted the 18-page legal memo cite here.

Those two questions, which he figures are state and not federal concerns are:
  1. Did the Charter of the City of Boston, or any other provision of the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, authorize the Boston City Council to promulgate Rule 40A of the Rules of the Boston City Council and employ it to remove an incumbent Councillor from office before he was sentenced and removed automatically by operation of M.G.L. c. 279, §30?
  2. If so, is Rule 40A a civil or a criminal provision of law?
From way out here, things are simpler. This really is a matter of home rule. The city charter says the Council makes its own rules. Their 40A rule reads they judge who is qualified to sit in the body and can meet to determine if a member convicted of a felony is qualified.

To the legal mind though, the suit that would declare Turner's expulsion in December illegal is not so plain. Specifically:
  • Turner claims the expulsion was a criminal sanction and not a civil one, thus becoming an ex post fact act violating Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the 1st and 14 Amendments to it.
  • If the city charter allowed rule 40A and its application to expel Turner, there would be no such violation.
  • No MA court has previously decided such questions about the Council's authority.
  • The MA law (Chapter 279, Section 30) that ousts any elected official sentenced to state or federal prison, in Wolf's memo, "may or may not indicate that municipalities have the power to remove officials in other circumstances."
  • Likewise, even though Turner joined the unanimous vote for rule 40A, because that happened between his corruption indictment and his sentencing, "it is susceptible to being found to be criminal in nature."
The seeming vindictiveness of this suit, both in its seeking damages and to stop the special election to replace Turner is coincidental, according to his attorney, Chester Darling. The Globe quotes him as, "His concern is that he loved that body. . . . He doesn’t want that nasty procedure left behind. The issue is an abuse of process and an abuse of power."

Yet in clear anticipation of the possibility of ouster at the December special meeting of the Council, Turner and his supporter Councilor Charles Yancey threatened such legal action and possible humiliation to the Council should it succeed. I rather doubt though should the SJC say the Council was fully within its rights that those on the other side would say how wrong they were and apologize to all concerned.

This is great stuff for lawyers and judges. A decision on this may not appear for a couple of months, as the SJC justices kick it around. Clarity will be good here.


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Prez Tells Biz to Step Up

A couple of years in the making, President Barack Obama's exhortation of American business was as spot on as overdue yesterday. Speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he asked companies to drop the drivel and get with the program. He challenged them to do their part to get us out of the deep recession.

Here and at Left Ahead! in our podcasts, I've been holding forth about the need for U.S. companies to step up, stop whining, and show some, well, American spirit. Businesses big and small sit on their capital, neither hiring nor expanding. They whimper that banks have made it harder to get loans, which is true enough and something Obama has already demanded a loosening of such policies.

However, the money is there and can be had with a bit more work on the applications and banking relationships. Moreover, the big problem is the lack of courage and national spirit by companies. Being afraid to hire, even contract employees, severely limits the recovery. It is also antithetical to the American character of courage with optimism. Waiting idly for others to hire thus putting more money into the economy keeps the coffin lid closed on the whole country.

Yesterday, the President explained and expanded on what the feds were doing to make life easier for companies. Then he said:
But I want to be clear: Even as we make America the best place on Earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to America.

I understand the challenges you face. I understand you are under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders and the pressures that are created by quarterly reports. I get it.

But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, I’m hoping that all of you are thinking what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the American economy and invest in this nation. That’s what I want to talk about today –- the responsibilities we all have -- the mutual responsibilities we have -- to secure the future that we all share.
All we can add to that would be the rallying cry from the ancients, "Fortune favors the bold!"


Let Us Praise Ken Olsen

The long, successful life of Ken Olsen is done. At just short of 85, he died.

Immediately, we need to remember that a derogatory cliché of his professional life is lame — allegations that if he had only embraced personal computers or this or that technology, his Digital Equipment Corporation would have been even bigger, better and more long lived. Instead, through his drive, innovation and confidence, he created the flourishing mini-computer industry, supporting tens of thousands of employees and creating many billions in wealth for investors for decades.

He hated the DEC term, preferring Digital for his company. Yet most of us in the computer press and even his employees used DEC. In previous professional lives, I covered DEC, met and questioned Olsen, and reviewed the technologies.

At the company's end, when Compaq bought and destroyed it, I worked for an amalgam of its huge networking part and Microcom, the telecommunications chassis, software and modem folk whom Compaq had bought about four months before. Clumsy Compaq decided it would create a networking power, but scrubbed the idea about 18 months later, sending thousands of us away. I can't forgive them their failure.

From my slight remove, I reported on DEC's doings, technically and financially. I would see Olsen in operation at industry meetings, press conferences and such. As frequently, chums who worked at DEC would trot out their personal tales of interaction with him.

For those who never met him, be aware he was imposing physically, both hulking and possessing a gigantic head that made him seem even taller and sturdier. For those who would go for the big young person's cop-out — I wasn't even born then — be aware that mini-computers were absolutely essential to Massachusetts' financial and technological growth and influence. They advanced computing from gigantic mainframes into much smaller, much more affordable multi-user systems that companies could and did buy and use. From the 1960s into the 1980s, they were essential to America's economy and productivity. Look 'em up.

I have yet to meet anyone who'd say Olsen was a sweetheart. Instead, he and Bill Gates seemed to share testiness. With either, be ready for a fight if you dared to criticize any idea, proposal or decision he made. DEC employees would use phrases like he handed my head to me in front of everybody. Personally I remember at a large announcement at DEC, I dared ask when they'd go for the thousands of workstations on factory and warehouse shopfloors that competitors were snatching. Olsen had a small fit right there on camera saying they owned that market. Later a friend in DEC investor relations said I was right but he sure wasn't about to say that the Olsen.

Much continues to be made of his antipathy for personal computers. He did blow that opportunity. Eventually, they came late to market with the DEC Rainbow. I even reviewed hardware and software for a Rainbow-specific magazine as a free-lance. Yet, DEC came in way too late with way too little innovation. They were doing just fine in workstations, butOlsen's heart never got into PCs as we know them.

That was not his business though and DEC did superbly for a very long time with minis and networking. If you have a desktop, laptop or netbook, for example, you are certain to have at least one DEC legacy and public-domain gift in it — an Ethernet LAN port.

Likewise to PCs, Olsen refused to support UNIX. He stubbornly held (accurately actually) that DEC's VMS operating system was superior. Yet, the world went to the much cheaper UNIX and then its largely free LINUX offshoots. Here again, there were big crumbs and whole meals Olsen was willing to miss out on in pursuit of his main ideas. His NIH attitude did limit picking up every bit of profit available.

As brusque as he could be, Ken Olsen was an amazing force for his industry. As long as you weren't the direct, public object of his scorn, you could enjoy hearing him debate ideas and technologies. We owe him tons of gratitude and praise.


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Monday, February 07, 2011

Spiraling in on Home Rule

Yet another federal judge tells Chuck Turner no. Behind today's call by First U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf remains the big home rule issue.

Turner and his pro-bono attorney Chester Darling seem to survive on ego and attention. Their suit demanded that Turner get his Boston City Council seat back following his ouster by his peers two months ago, precipitated by his conviction on four corruption related felonies.

Underneath, this remains about the inane MA implementation of home rule. That requires municipalities to beg the legislature for any variance to their charter, no matter how minor or how obvious, with a rewrite of the charter each time.

On the surface, this is allegedly about the tragic injustice to Turner in tossing him from Council before the state law kicked in when he was sentenced to three years in federal prison last month. Turner sought to be reinstated pending sentencing, get paid as Councilor, and get verification that the Council did not have the right to remove him.

Along the way, the collateral damage would be to the residents of District 7. Turner wanted to push out the special election to replace him (probably about two months). This of course would ensure that constituents do not have a Councilor to represent them.

Today, Wolf most obviously noted that the issue of staying in office became moot on January 25th. A single day of prison time forces an elected official from office by MA law.

However, we may yet get a resolution on the home-rule aspect. Wolf referred the questions related to Turner's ouster to the MA Supreme Judicial Court. He deferred the question of Turner's pay for that six or seven weeks until the state court decides. He noted that the federal level was not the right one for the suit's demands.

So, the SJC could rule that the Council overstepped its authority. In that case, the likely result for Turner would be pay for that period.

It seems more likely that because the Council had followed its procedures, the city charter as interpreted by the Councilors and the city counsel, it was acting lawfully. At issue is the picayune parsing of the explicitness of the charter and Council rules. The Council is empowered to decide who is qualified to serve in addition to being allowed to make its own rules and procedures. It also passed a rule (unanimously including Turner) that mandated a fitness-to-serve hearing when a member is convicted of a felony. Turner, Darling, and Turner friend Councilor Charles Yancey contend that because the rule did not use the exact term remove or expel, the Council was powerless to act.

However, this rule 40A is pretty explicit:
Rule 40A. Pursuant to the city charter and in accordance with the open meeting law, the council president may refer a matter to the council upon his/her determination that any member has engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the Boston City Council or may be unqualified to sit on the body. A member may be unqualified by violating federal or state law, or any conditions imposed by the city’s charter, which includes violating any provisions of the three oaths of office.
The council president shall automatically refer a matter to the council upon a felony conviction of any member by any state or federal court.
Any action by the council taken in response to any referral shall require a two-thirds (2/3) majority roll call vote and will be in accordance with local, state and federal law.
This likely calls for clarification under the reasonable person (historically reasonable man) principle. Outside of tax codes, damned few laws are so precise that some bozo can't pick and parse. Many lawyers do just that for a living.

In this case though, it would seem pretty unreasonable to assume anything other than what the rest of Council and their counsel did.

I would like to see the SJC decide that the Council had acted lawfully. I would love the General Court to revisit the archaic home-rule process. The legislature needs to stop wasting their time and our resources making cities and towns crawl to them for minutiae.

Sure, preclude any local decisions that commit commonwealth funds or conflict with its laws. Otherwise, let's be adult here. The mayors, city managers, councils and such need to continue to inform the commonwealth of their decisions, particularly those they are apt to call "laws." Unless there's a conflict with MA laws or resources, we'd all be better off without the theatrics and begging.


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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Moist Men



The longer they live, the more likely men are to cry or at least tear up in response to emotional stimulus. Perhaps the deepest effect of John Boehner as Speaker of the U.S. House may be awareness of adult crying. We are still in the puerile ridicule stage, but more is in the works. Already, there's lots of pop and academic chatter.

Two months ago, the NY Times got into it and today the Boston Globe did a light variation. Before and between, the MSM and net is rife with commentary. I suspect the interest is really more of a boomer issue than for other age groups. The older folk are still in a weird, repressed cultural hole and the young folk, at this point at least, don't care...yet.

For those of us not of my generation — and for those not particularly introspective —boomers felt lots of old-fashioned pressures. Our parents (and grands) as well as the movies and TV that we lived by and from, were of heroes and villains.

We swam in Westerns and WWII movies in addition to more frivolous and fantastic fare. Our parents as a group were deep into cultivating the mythology of themselves as what has become known as the Greatest Generation, partially through history and more through that fluff piece.

We didn't question their courage, their world-changing post-war decisions, or much of any of their vainglory. As much as the white hats or helmeted GIs on the screen, the entire bunch were God's gifts to us and the world.

A key aspect of the real people and screen folk was assumptions of manhood...including that real men did not cry. Our movie men bit leather belts or bullets or took a swig of whiskey to have a leg cut off or a bullet dug out. Manly men could grunt or curse (mild exclamations at high volume only), but tears were for weak women or little girls.

Given the culture, at least for the white middle class, women were the primary enforcers of such inanity. As constantly available surrogates for the working dads, they taught day to day how a boy was supposed to behave to be an acceptable man. Look no farther to figure out where the bullies, repressed men and wife abusers learned their stuff.

Yet, it was the whole culture that constructed and reinforced this rigid role. I recall from pre-elementary school how a crying boy was ridiculed by peers, parents, teachers, strangers. Men don't cry.

Yet, men in their 50s and beyond do. Their daughters' weddings, a grandchild's hugs and kisses and more and more bring out the tears.

An amusing aspect is that the surviving WWII folk are in their late 70s into their 90s. Those men cry. I've seen and heard it. Oddly enough, many of their boomer kids and grandkids are very forgiving and understanding, we'd have to say more realistic and mature. They simply don't buy into that unrealistic fantasy of manhood precluding tears.

The older you get, the more you have powerful libraries of experience. You also have changing and even rogue hormones rushing in when you don't expect it. The control the so-called Greatest Generation claims to have had erodes under the constant lapping of life's tides.

We can look back to 1972 to Sen. Ed Muskie crying on TV as he spoke into mics. That was end end of his presidential chances. He was defending his wife against outrageous slander of her as a swearing drunk. Yet, even as he spoke in New Hampshire cold, he later claimed he wasn't crying, rather those were snowflakes, not tears. We can be sure that Boehner would not be reduced to such ploys.

This is another century, a couple of generations out. Honest emotion is out there and Boehner is in its vanguard. Sure, he's a silly guy, but more for his crazy politics and pandering to wingers than his handkerchief wetting.

He may not give a good name to weepy pols. In fact, we could likely do without the melodrama. Yet, here's a very powerful guy, a certified male of the species who cries in public. That really isn't so bad now, is it?
Tags: massmarrier, crying, Boehner, Greatest Generation, manhood, boomers




Thursday, February 03, 2011

Lords of the MA Manor

I was a supporter and endorser of Steve Grossman for MA treasurer. Following his installation and his initial announcements of programs, I figured it was a good time to check the commonwealth website for ego levels.

The previous treasurer, Tim Cahill, seemed to be the only employee there. Much like Secretary Bill Galvin still, Cahill's sub-site made it look like he did everything. Every page had Cahill's picture and referred to his this, that and the other. Clearly nothing happened unless he did it personally. All hail!

Of course, that's a nice perk for an elected official. Particularly for executive functions like treasurer, secretary or AG, elected posts, constant plugs are free campaigning. Those offices all offer services that thousands of voters use every year. How super that they will associate your face and name with every single click.

Today, Galvin hasn't changed his. It's all Bill all the time. The other three have a little softer sell. That includes smaller pictures, headings that feature the office bigger than the officer, and many linked pages in the sub-site that do not have the picture big and up top.

Spot checks of nearby states show they are like the newer, lower-key version we're using. Connecticut's treasurer site, for example, has her name and picture on the upper left but not on linked pages to services. Stealthier and less vain is New York's AG site. It has a link to the bio, but doesn't even name him on the main page, much less has his image on every heading.

I've met with Grossman a few times and we had him on our Left Ahead! podcast. He clearly is a straight-ahead guy, a permanent Eagle Scout, and not ego driven. I am actually a little surprised that he went with the mass.gov template and didn't ask them to tone it down a bit. Even now though, his pictures are small and the function of the office is more obvious than the person.

The current page does have a larger picture of him in the middle. However, he's freshly minted and this is a short on his swearing in ceremony.

Click the page to the left for a larger view or head to it solo. You'll notice that his pix are really thumbnails, or rather fingernails, rather than the honking big smiling heads we're used to seeing.

Moreover, on subsequent pages, he appears, but not as intrusively as Cahill used to and Galvin still does.

On the popular abandoned-property page, his mug is up there, but only after you begin your search. The opening page of the function just has the heading and is otherwise Grossman-free.

It's not without his presence, but this version is a much lower-key personality pitch. I'd say we're over half way to featuring the functionality instead of personality.

Of course, our governor is like most other states'. He is the face of the government to most of us and is not at all shy shy about featuring himself. His individual sub-site is heavy on the pictures and credits.

Perhaps it's good to be king. I am moderately pleased though that our princes and princess seem to have their egos a bit more under control.

Tags: massmarrier, Massachusetts, mass.gov, Grossman, Cahill, campaigning

Harmless News Future

I have seen Rupert Murdoch's The Daily...and it is OK. The big brains melded with the 79-year-old's for a long time may have done their best. Yawn.

Last night, I installed the iPad app for The Daily and loaded the first issue. I gave it a solid workout. I confess though it doesn't take long (the point, eh?) and my index finger wasn't even tired.

Fortunately for us all, lots of folk were doing the same. If you want substance, Salon runs a good set of links for the yeah, bleeh, and no-way crowds here. Knowing those are collected, I avoided them to keep my indifference simmering low.

The aged caliph of media, to his credit, tries to stay relevant and influential. He's most famous for making most of his billions on tabloid and other lowest-common-denominator journalism. This go is similar, but with an effort to incorporate this century's technologies. Clearly, he wants to be known as the guy who figured out how to make some money from online news.

Here I grabbed a page from their promo instead of the first issue. This does not get into the sometimes confusing navigation. Rather it is typical of The Daily I saw last evening and you can watch in the promo.

Let me be plain. This is a magazine. It has short, graphic heavy articles, none with anything you can't find elsewhere. It is what we in the print biz call toilet reading for the low time and intellect demands.

That written, The Daily delivers this stuff pretty well, for an online magazine. You can amuse yourself quickly, but you sure won't be the center of attention among your coworkers or friends discussing the surface-level info here.

The initial load of a day's issue takes a couple of minutes on an iPad. You'd think they could have loaded the contents and such more or less instantaneously, keeping your interest. Instead, it begins loading automatically and then updates on occasion throughout the day.

You can swipe through an issue in typical iPad/iPhone style. Good. You can touch a category (like news, sports, gossip, and even games/puzzles) to go to that sub-content. Good. You can go to the ToC and touch a headline to go to the article. Good.

Yet swiping through a whole issue or section doesn't let you settle a piece easily. Pages flash or drop you into an article with the least inattention. Instead, electronically flipping the pages gives you an accurate sense of how short and LITE the articles are.

There's lots of little navigation tricks — touch this to go here, this to return to the front and so forth. They take a little accommodation but do use the iPad features.

The app is free through Apple. The first two weeks of issues are as well. Afterward, it costs 99¢ a week or $39.99 a year. Now there's model to scare the pay-wall types, like the Boston Globe! Basically as low as 11¢ a day, readers can ask, is it worth a dime or so?

The counterpart surely is that the content may be free to Murdoch. That is, there aren't going to be offices of supporting journalists gathering expensive news and images to support this. There is so little stuff here and nothing unique, his folk surely cannibalize all from material they already produce. The reformatting is pretty much just cutting material.

It appears as though The Daily intends to make a little from subscriptions and much more from its ads. Its overhead is likely low enough that a few tens of thousands of subs will cover all costs, keeping the profits coming and growing. It won't a high percent of newspaper readers sick of the ever-increasing price hikes and ever-decreasing content (quality and quantity) to say $40 a year is a lot better than $250.

Those who switch will continue the dumbing down of readers. They likely will be no dumber in the end than anyone who turns to TV news as the primary or sole source.

The Daily is pretty easy to use, gives the illusion of content, and comes in affordable. It should make it.

It is not anyone's manifestation of a breakthrough though. Its profound effect will come as the many laggard pay-wall types try to imitate or better this effort.


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