Friday, March 30, 2007

Would-Be President Al Goldstein on SSM

Al Goldstein's running for U.S. President is certainly no more absurd than Sam Brownback's doing the same. What's absurd is that an aging ex-porn king is lower down the list than arguably our most bigoted and dumbest U.S. Senator in decades.

Warning: If you click through to Alvin's campaign site, be aware that his platform is mildly obscene and the home page features vintage nudity including him.

If you need to know why I even care or mention it, you should also be aware that I knew him and even did a little work for his rags. Also, he has taken a position on same-sex marriage. That follows.

Apparently, I'm one of the few who has a kind word or more to write about him. At 70 or 71, he still revels in unrepentant sexuality and sexism and his opening campaign blurb frames him:
Why he's running:
Everyone knows politics is a dirty business. Who better to run than a veteran of an even dirtier business?
So, Al is still clever and he's bright, crudely funny and insatiably curious.

You don't have to go to his lewd main site to catch his YouTube vids of his positions or at least slurs on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, racism, George Bush, Iraq, and same-sex marriage.

Perhaps a transcript of the quintuple divorce veteran on SSM will be plenty. He must have seen the coverage in the gay press from the anti-marriage folk to lead him to quip:
Gay marriage should be permitted as much as heterosexual marriage, because the ultimate perversion is not the homosexuality but the marriage. Marriage is impossible because people change and monogamy is an absurd, fallacious philosophy. I'm opposed to marriage, but if a gay person wants to marry, let him suffer too.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the serial marrier's campaign lists an adult search engine as its sponsor.

My full disclosure is a bit shadier than those of bloggers who are on the payroll of the Boston Globe. I did a little work for Al in the 1970s when his Milky Way Productions ran tabs named Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I did some photography, reporting and a play review or two (very off-off Broadway) for Screw and Gay. As well as seeing him at his Union Square office, I had dinner with him a few times.

The man appreciated and understood food. He could overeat and was embarrassed when he was chubby. He looks trim enough to fit the norms of the simple-minded trend followers now.

Oddly enough, something I remember vividly was his fascination for electronics and mechanics. Before personal computers, there were numerous adult toys that had nothing to do with sex. They were for proto-geeks such as Al, business types and hobbyists alike. Al even put out a short-lived and very unsexual magazine, Gadget, to review and revel in his early adopter gimmicks and geegaws.

Apparently, he's still offensive and still loving being so. He's never been dull.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Stopping Right Here

Note: Left Ahead! is not yet listed with LeftyBlogs. So, I cross-post this here in the interim.

A huge and recurring progressive issue in Massachusetts has never been more obvious than it is with our new administration. It is the political problem of where does the buck stop or who's going to bell the cat.

Through years of Pollyanna pretending, we have downplayed fundamental problems and funding concerns. Everyone acknowledges we have a sluggish economy here. Now, Gov. Deval Patrick has ripped the sheet off the rest of the mess.

A few legislators still pretend that our huge deficit -- likely over a billion dollars this year -- is really an accounting and framing issue. You can understand why they would say that. It helps relieve them of their culpability in spending on pet projects while ignoring the hard funding issues.

The Patrick administration is saying the king has no clothes, or in this case, the infrastructure is crumbling and needs a massive overhaul of spending priorities to fix it. Likewise, the governor calls out corporations for their tax contributions that are among the lowest of any state and shrinking toward zero.

Here again, it's understandable that legislators want to watch out for and even protect their big contributors and golf buddies. Patrick is willing to: 1) admit that in his previous corporate life he hired people to exploit just such tax escape hatches, and 2) it's time that this game is over in Massachusetts.

Here we come to the roots of progressive politics. You identify the problems that are hurting the public, you are willing to take responsibility for fixing them, and you specify the solutions.

This may be quite a shock to the General Court. It can only make them stronger as they have to deal with reality. It can only help us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fie on the Fogeys and Phobics

Up in Concord, New Hampshire, the House trashed the amendment drive that would outlaw same-sex marriage today. This clearly is in preparation for the vote, probably next Wednesday, that will likely enable civil unions. The senate in turn should pass it and the governor sign it.

Today's wasn't even close -- 233 to 124. Moreover, this was to send the matter to voters (the wheezing let the people vote plea of the anti-gay and anti-equality folk). That would have required a two-thirds majority.

The whining was predictable:
"You're not being a bigot if you say, 'I think the people have a right to vote,' and say, 'That's how to define a family,'" Windham Republican Anthony DiFruscia said in the losing fight.

Auburn Republican Dudley Dumaine warned amendment opponents they would be held accountable in the 2008 election.

"I want you on record telling the people they don't have a right to vote on this constitutional amendment," he said.

It's great to see a bunch of lawmakers not afraid to stand up to that junk.

Numerous legislators urged killing the amendment. The most powerful apparently was Carole Estes (D-Plymouth), who is Black. She said, "I could not go to a theater or a restaurant where whites were. I was 18 years old before I spoke to a white as an equal. I could not attend public college. I could not try on any article of clothing or return it when it was purchased."

She noted irony of her being asked to vote to legalize discrimination against another minority. She concluded, "For too many years, I have spent time believing I was a second-class citizen. The laws told you so. I cannot perpetuate a travesty even though the people say they should vote. They have voted in the past," resulting in discrimination.

The article reports that "the chamber broke into applause."

Unfortunately, the House was not entirely clear thinking. It sent a bill back to committee on whether it should repeal its laws not recognizing marriages that would not be legal if conducted there. That vote was a squeaker -- 171 to 169. It may not be dead.

Those who want to defeat that effort apparently are fearful of Massachusetts same-sex married couples moving there and suing for recognition. They phrased it as though they were concerned about polygamy. Oh, yeah.

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And Now...Ex-Anti-Gay

In the rant before the rant, let me praise Pam Spaulding. Her Pam's House Blend (always a link to it here [appropriately] on the left) is a gem. The Durham-based commentary is insightful, often surprising, and continually evolving.

Yesterday, she ran a long interview with a former professional verbal gay basher who has come over from the Dark Side. A single conversion does not make a trend, but other anti-gay and anti-marriage-equality types might open their eyes and minds reading how he got from there to here.

Joe Murray had been an American Family Association staff attorney and columnist. He wrote some of the most vitriolic and divisive pieces from the right wing. Consider as an example his 2003 commentary following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Texas laws against consensual gay sex. The column, The Summer of Sodomy, includes such condemnations as:
There is no question about it: the Summer of 2003 will go down in history as the Summer of Sodomy. The Buggery Battalion, forever diligent in its quest to lay siege to America's cultural institutions, has made tremendous strides in replacing traditional Judeo-Christian values with a New Age doctrine of tolerance and acceptance -- i.e., unconditional acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Put simply, there is not a social structure existing today that has not been touched by the homosexual movement.
It concludes that the least that needs to happen in reaction includes:
By excommunicating Justice Kennedy, the Catholic Church would be defending its faith, preserving its people, and protecting those nations who still hold true to Christian values. Protestant churches must follow suit, cleaning their house of members who only pay lip service to the message of Christ.
No question, no quarter, no compromise marked his high rhetoric at AFA. You may have noticed that I am pessimistic about reasoning with such folk, much less convincing them that what I see as equality, fairness, Christianity and American ideals are worthy of consideration. So, we can all wonder how Murray put down his light saber of vengeance.

The interview reveals all and is worth paging down through for the transformation. It turns out Murray is still adamantly Christian and pro-life, and pro-strong military. Yet, he studied his Bible and found:
  • He knows that it is his God's power, not other humans', to judge and condemn or save.
  • That the often quoted sections of the King James version used to damn homosexuals refer to boy prostitutes, not homosexuals and are too narrow to build a political and moral campaign on.
  • Much of the religious right obsesses about homosexuality. As he extrapolated, "The whole gay issue is no longer about the quest for the Truth; it is about fear and loathing. It is about shame and sorrow. It is anything but Christian."
After much study, prayer and introspection, he changed his heart. He even now hopes that by such interviews and his writing that he might "move (the AFA) in the right direction...I hoped that if some folks in the organization read the piece from a former employee with strong 'conservative' credentials, they would take a second look on how to handle this issue. It is a long shot, but it was worth the chance."

The far-ranging post covers Murray's assessment of the religious right's statements and campaigns. Do read it.

I remained to be convinced that the leaders of the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality campaigns will ease off, much less have Murray's kind of satori. I have noted numerous times, like here, how even their constituencies are slowly coming around and dribbling away from the Dark Side. Yet, even as their loss in his brutal crusade becomes increasingly obvious, the leaders are not likely to ease off.

Murray hopes they will come to reason and to do what he now knows is the Christian thing. I would welcome that, but I am not holding my breath.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Podcasts: Bloggers in Your Ears

Well, Mable, I heard that podcasts are quite the thing. Let's do it.

Three of us started doing just that today, over here. You can insert your own attack-of-the-pod-people, iPod, peapod, whale pod and other jokes.

The first one is a little over a half hour, introduces what we are about, and touches on Massachusetts politics from a progressive viewpoint. We're going to tunnel down into topics every week. Next Tuesday, for example, we'll get into the state and local special elections. We expect to go more into this year's ConCon as well.

The players include Ryan Adams from Ryan's Take, Lynne Lupien from Left in Lowell, and me. We'll also bring along other bloggers from time to time, and sometimes host call-in portions.

Also, the Left Ahead! site will have the audio and some commentary. Both the sound and blog posts give us a chance to concentrate on progressive topics as distinct from our main blogs. Please visit and comment on the blog, the podcasts, or what topics you like us to cover.

You can see the schedule, listen live to a stream, or download from the archive at our BlogTalkRadio page.

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Slowly, Slowly to SSM

Glasses partially full are not a good metaphor for a marriage-equality struggle. Perhaps the old climb-the-mountain cliché might work better.

I'm sure America, most of America, will get there eventually. Just a few days ago, not your jolliest U.S. Congressman, Rep. Barney Frank said as much to student groups at George Washington University, as covered in the Daily Colonial.

Yet a glance at the map of laws and amendments against same-sex-marriage, civil unions and even domestic partnerships suggests that there was no shot. Even before the Goodridge decision by our Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), legislatures and anti-gay groups in numerous states raced to add restrictions to laws and or constitutions.

Marriage as an institution had been in trouble since at least WWII and arguably long before. Generations of us, through and including numerous legislators and famous ministers, treated their own spousal vows as whimsy and easily overridden inconvenience.

The concept that recognizing the inborn nature of homosexuality and extending this key right to gay couples seemed to be more than a socially regressive country could abide. Cynics may say too that this phobia of some same-sex-marriage contagion makes an adequate cover for heterosexuals' failure to maintain the institution.

Nonetheless, thanks in no small part to then President W.J. Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government gave states the freedom to centuries of comity, a fundamental basis of our federalism. They could claim a blessing to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages, thus foiling those alleged and widely defamed activist judges.
Go ahead, you Massachusetts couple. Move to our state and see how good your gay marriage is here!
For those who favor civil rights in general and marriage equality in particular, the North-to-South bands of anti-SSM states could get depressing. Both coasts, particularly here in the Northeast are headed up that mountain to equality pretty quickly, but so many states have so many restrictions. In say, Idaho, or the extreme, Virginia, it would take quite a lot of popular and legislative voting or in the least a U.S. Supreme Court decision to undo the heavy veneers of discrimination.

Yet, several funny things happened on the way to defend against Massachusetts' marriage equality:
  • Other countries preceded or followed in legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions.
  • Other states joined Vermont in civil unions and are looking ahead toward full SSM.
  • The percentage of Americans opposed to SSM and to civil unions continued to drop, plunging in some areas.
  • American who get to know homosexual people, partners and parents often drop their opposition to their unions or marriages.
  • Perhaps almost as influential as familiarity, awareness of the extreme exaggeration and dishonesty of the promises of terrible effects of civil unions and SSM has turned many around.
It was with this background that our Barney Frank spoke to students at GWU, at an event sponsored by Allied in Pride and College Democrats. He certainly was in his element and neither sponsor was likely to be hostile, even to a left-wing Bay Stater.

He predicted that "...New York and California will recognize gay marriage in the next four or five years and the other states will follow in the next ten years.” I'm not so sure it will happen that fast, but I agree with the direction he sees.

In analyzing the Massachusetts experience, he said that the SJC's ruling that marriage equality was necessary for our laws and constitution was a relative painless approach to such a big shift. The people could see whether the predictions of disaster would occur that way.

He added, "After a couple years, the average heterosexual person forgets gay marriage is there.” The opinion polls here, with well over 60% favoring SSM three years on, support that view. Frank said too that a big factor in expanding civil rights is that ordinary people find out that extending common rights to others doesn't harm them.

Perhaps Frank is overly optimistic or I am overly pessimistic, but only about the timing. I agree with him that we shall get up that mountain.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Deval's Blogging Buddies

Without prolonged navel gazing, it appears as though some print folk having been ragging on the ragged bloggers again. I was set to ignore it, but Gov. Deval Patrick's savvy interplay with us electron slingers -- in his campaign and after -- is worthy of mention.

Unfortunately, there are a few examples of itty-boo, poor-me journalism out there. The lamest may be the piece by David Bernstein over at the Phoenix. That's the ironically blog-style item that riled up mild-mannered (recent Globe model-like source) David Kravitz from Blue Mass Group. and the far less compliant Lynne Lupien from Left In Lowell.

If you want to wallow in the amusing commentary, you can try David's take or Lynne's amplification. Oh, and Ryan Adams at Ryan's Take has some not too subtle words on the subject.

I agree with them. What they don't say too is that newspapers have largely failed to take advantage of blogs. Even pretty good news sites like stagger under the embarrassment of the parent paper's boring blogs.

That's not the point though. The important angle is that Deval does take advantage, does get it, does grok blogs. He was willing to spend a half hour or so with a gang of us after his town meeting for good reason. We are running words, images, video and MP3s. We asked several questions that paper and broadcast folk didn't and won't. We wanted something beyond what a press release or speech coverage would give us. Our coverage will go on for some time and reach people who skim or ignore MSM.

So, he got over a dozen of us and treated us with intelligence and respect. He only refused one question, when asked for an opinion on the U.S. Attorneys ousters, in relation to his high post in Bill Clinton's Justice Department.

For that, he'll get a lot of coverage from a variety of angles. The blogs have much, much smaller readerships than the local MSM, but our regulars and click-in readers seek us, and don't just access us by default. We have people who want more and different than they get in the Globe, the Phoenix or TV newscasts. Our audience likely expects some analysis and a bit more or different than the big kids.

Blogs are new and evolving. Very few politicians have a high enough tolerance for the ambiguity inherent in such evolutionary development. I'm betting Deval stays ahead of cycle. I'm betting he gives bloggers what they need, as he does MSM, and that with blogs he gets a high return for a modest effort.

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Concord Ready to Bless Unions

It looks like New Hampshire will beat Rhode Island to the same-sex union party. Out of the six New England states -- key pace setters for independence and fairness, lo, several centuries ago, one offers same-sex marriage and two civil unions. Maine's voters and legislature have come down strongly for gay rights, Rhode Island is peeking under the clothes of SSM, and suddenly New Hampshire appears about to enable civil unions.

Let Texas and South Carolina sit in a homophobic pout.

Was it only a little over a years ago that a mean-spirited committee head railroaded the marriage-laws hearings? Next thing we hear, a flurry of gay-couple-friendly bills look like they have a shot.

Now both the Union-Leader and the Monitor report that the current civil unions bill looks like a winner. Fueling speculation was last week's passage of HB 51 to permit same-sex adoption. The votes for it were 12 to 7 in committee and 234 to 127 on the floor. The ayes included 24 of 161 Republicans.

Similarly, the House Judiciary Committee reported 15 to 5 favorably for HB 0437 to enable civil unions. There was a flavor of inevitability as well as lesser-of-two-evils at work, it seems. The Monitor quoted Exeter Republican Rep. Lee Quandt as, "I think the average citizen in this area does not want gay marriage. I also sense that they don't want to see gays discriminated against or ill treated in any way."

The senate should pass it after the house. However a wrinkle is that the senate may first consider a bill to let any couple, gay or straight, enter into a contract that would give them the same rights at the state level as married couples. Passage of that might lead to some serious arm wrestling in conference committee.

Regardless, some form of legal homosexual relationship should be the law in New Hampshire soon.

Well, maybe Rhode Island will jump right over civil unions and go for full marriage equality.

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ConCon Boom Boom

As early as the second week of May, the herds, hordes and horrids will battle on Beacon Hill. Actually, the skirmishes preceding this year's Constitutional Convention (ConCon) have been fought constantly from early January, when the previous ConCon advanced the anti-marriage-equality amendment to this one.

On paper at least, the actual battle could flare and flash out on May 9th. No one expects that though. The norm of these joint legislative sessions is for the old boys and girls to gather, futz over the agenda and agree when they intend to meet again for the real business. That often is June and may be in the fall or in such rare cases as this year, the last possible session at the start of January.

Show Time on Beacon Street

This time, it makes a difference, a big difference.

The ballot-initiative rules strongly favor the petitioners. While they have to get two successive ConCons to pass their measure in identical wording to get it on the ballot, only 25% of the 200 legislators have to support it to pass it. That contrasts to 50% for a measure proposed by a legislature. While a citizen-petition initiative is not a mandated pass-through for legislature, it's close enough.

A patently unconstitutional initiative should not get as far as a ConCon. Here, we hold that this one to strip homosexual couples of their right to marry should not have advanced, both because of the fraud in the signature-gathering phase and its intent to overturn a judicial decision (the Goodridge one). Then Attorney General Thomas Reilly did not have the nerve and wisdom to turn this controversial measure down though. So here we are after yet another year of angst and divisiveness.

This go, those favoring the amendment would love to see it come to a vote the moment the ConCon opens. In January, with the previous General Court makeup, 62 lawmakers voted to advance the amendment. After the election the anti-marriage-equality forces hoped they could still claim 58 in their pockets.

The erstwhile gormless and sometimes gutless Senate President Bobby Travaglini seemed to hold a grudge. He really wanted civil unions instead of full homosexual marriage. Ever since the Supreme Judicial Court told him that didn't meet the law, he has been truculent about it all. Whether that's the reason he pushed the amendment through January's ConCon is not important, merely that he did.

His replacement, Therese Murray, is a strong marriage-equality supporter, but she will not use parliamentary procedures to defeat this amendment, she says. That leaves the good guys to scramble and cajole in efforts to sway nine or more legislators to defeat the amendment by vote or abstention.

Have Times Changed Enough?

A couple of years ago, there surely would have been no question that the anti-gay and anti-marriage-equality forces would have held sway in a ConCon. Since though, the squawking panic calls have proven that much bluster. We have all seen:
  • Marriage as an institution was staggering and troubled decades before there was such a thing as legal SSM.
  • Same-sex couples and parents are just like different-sex ones.
  • The terrible social and financial calamities the anti folk promised never happened.
  • Nothing bad and only good has come of SSM.
  • The pseudo-history and pseudo-traditions the anti people used to try to justify their discrimination are based in exaggeration and deceit.
Perhaps more powerful to the lawmakers is in the past three years of SSM here voters have gotten to know and notice gay couples and parents. The acceptance of them as friends, coworkers, neighbors and just plain folk grows from poll to poll.

The legislators who perceived that their constituents wanted them to vote against SSM, even to the point of stripping a minority of an existing right, are in a more difficult place now. If they look at the polls and speak to their voters in their districts -- as all are certain to do, will there be five or six or eight lawmakers who admit that times have changed?

How Influential the Leaders?

Now we have the the speaker of the house, Sal DiMasi, as well as the senate president, wanting to defeat the amendment and not institutionalize discrimination. They both claim, as does Gov. Deval Patrick, that they will lobby hard to defeat the amendment in a ConCon vote.

Likewise, the main proponent organization to defeat it, MassEquality, is doing its best to work the waffling and even the anti-SSM legislators. According to a Bay Windows article:
“We are very actively going at picking up at least nine [votes],” said (Campaign Director Marc) Solomon, “and I generally talk about [getting] 15 votes.” Toward that end, the organization has zeroed in on roughly 30 lawmakers who don’t approach the issue with a fundamental belief that gays and lesbians should not have equal rights. “We want to focus on the ones who don’t approach it from that standpoint, but [they] nevertheless have political concerns or have concerns about the process or think that people should have a right to vote,” (MassEquality Political Director Matt) McTighe explained. “We want to talk to them and really make sure that they understand and know that it is wrong to vote on rights and that [LGBT] families truly will be impacted by this discriminatory amendment.”
Of course, the other side is just as actively at work, trying not to lose anyone to common sense, compassion or fairness. How much the benign reality of SSM has blunted their arguments remains to be seen.

Down near the Rhode Island border, the Sun Chronicle piece on this has a thought-provoking take on it. They quote one anti-marriage-equality lawmaker as being pessimistic about passing the amendment to the ballot. Rep. Betty Poirier (R-North Attleboro) was a bit paranoid about the ConCon, particularly in light of Murray's pledge to allow a vote.

Poirier "predicted that legislative leaders would not hold another constitutional convention until they are sure they have enough votes to defeat the amendment. 'I'm not optimistic at all,' she said. 'I don't hold out a lot of hope.'" Also, she feared a legislative boycott to avoid having a vote at all.

While that is heartening here, such comments surely will not make Solomon or Patrick or Murray or DiMasi stop talking. This is a defining moment for the new administration and General Court. As Patrick noted at his town meeting in Boston Saturday, if the amendment passes, the resulting campaign will be two years of distraction from the important business of government reform and progress.

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Deval Meeting -- the Real Thing

We are unworthy, sco. I, for one, had a nice evening. He was home transcribing and analyzing his notes.

Not only that, but he mooched a WiFi connection and live blogged. We are shamed.

If you want the rush, catch his live commentary. For the best analysis of what turned out to be an important policy and tone setting event, read every word of his in-depth with coverage of the blogger conference with Deval too.

Oh, yeah, and for marriage equality, Tom at KnowThyNeighbor cuts right to the important stuff from and related to Deval working the legislature.

It may pay to watch for self-described hockey mom Susan over at Beyond 495. She grabbed the gab on her portable player. She isn't sharing yet.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tale of Two in the City

We can say not everyone was blissing out in the sun yesterday. One big batch was at the anti-Iraq-War rally on the Common. Another went to Gov. Deval Patrick's first of his series of town meetings, at Boston Latin. The events shared sincerity and liberalism, but little else.

The whole family and a son's friend joined the rally around the Common bandstand. It was simultaneously disappointingly poorly attended and energizing from the passion of those who did come.

The zeitgeist of the 60s in the anti-Vietnam-War times revisited, without the pro-war voices and hostile cops. In fact, for the cops, it seemed pretty boring. Most wore fluorescent yellow jackets and were ready for, for, well, something.

Instead, a dozen or so beefy guys lounged on their Harleys. A couple dozen bicycle cops (much trimmer, as one might expect) stood with their wheels until they couldn't stand it any longer. They'd then ride around the sidewalks (as we cyclists without fluorescent BPD jackets are forbidden to do). Eventually, a scouting party wheeled off to a local sandwich joint and returned with bags of carbs for their buddies with nothing to do but eat and joke.

This probably speaks to Washington's failures that the constabulary was not itching to hurt the protesters as their counterparts here and elsewhere did 40 years ago.

And of 40 years ago, the rally included quite a few college students. The younger kids were there with their largely Boomer parents. On the bandstand, the poets with their anti-war blank verse and the strumming and singing Vets against yet another travesty of a war were Boomers.

Around the circular sidewalk, other grey mustachioed singers were hard into Crosby Stills and Nash protest songs. They surely sang them all those years ago too.

There were some reassuring actors. Even the Communist Party USA handed out their tabloid.

Unfortunately, while the organizers claimed up to 4,000 at the rally, it looked like were between 1,000 and 2,000, even if you count the tourists wandering over.

One surprise hit was the opportunistic vegan group. They showed up with three dressed as a cow (NO WAR NO WHEY), a pig (PIGS FOR PEACE) and a chicken (MAKE TOFU NOT WAR). This was Vegan Outreach recruiting. The min-Boomers were smitten and their parents took the brochures.

The mood of the state and the nation certainly differs from those many years ago. The communist threat was been muddled with new business partners of China and Russia. Americans are sick of the waste of our young people's lives and limbs, and of perhaps a trillion dollars that could do good at home with no end nor even good results in sight.

Sadness, fatigue and sickness of heart don't fill the streets with protesters. Instead the action and pressure has shifted to Congress. Each of these rallies can't hurt as lobbying.

As the rally wound down, the don't-call-it-a-rally rally that was Deval Patrick's first of a series of town meetings creaked to a start at Boston Latin. Antithetical to Common gathering, this was a few famous local politicians and hope instead of despair.

Most of the two hours in the gym was Deval on stage with Mayor Thomas Menino. Now, there was a study in contrast.

A major similarity is that they both are homey guys who exude empathy for the voters. In other words, they are the anti-Mitt Romneys.

A half hour went to introductions. In such a wonderfully provincial city, the school administration treated this as a student civics project and production. The often strident headmaster, Cornelia Kelley, (soon to retire) was not there, but Assistant Headmaster Malcolm Flynn introduced a couple of star students to in turn introduce Menino and Patrick.

It was cute.

Flynn was not Mr. Excitement. The high-GPA students were adequate though and were fine addressing several hundred adults and a good contingent of press with video cameras. Then came Tommy.

The bloggers I was with were from Lowell, Dartmouth, Townsend and elsewhere beyond 128. They knew our mayor by reputation but apparently had never really experienced Menino the Magnificent.

First, let me note that Menino and Patrick had a strong overlap in message. They both returned to a central message along the lines of this is your government, tell your elected officials exactly what you need, want and expect. Then tell them again.

However, a number of my chums sat in the row in front of me. Their heaves of laughter at our longest-serving mayor got me giggling too.

Second, let me say that that dreadful Howie Carr of the Herald is not a good enough user of our shared language to rag on Menino for his poor diction and mispronunciations. We do understand what Menino says, or missays.

There was a bit of irony on the dais though after the student introduced him. She, like all Latin students, stands before dozens and sometimes hundreds of peers and teachers many times to declaim. They must recite from memory to be decent orators to take their part in fulfilling their citizenship duties. Tommy clearly was not a Latin grad.

However, he did share Deval's central message. As is his wont, he returned to his wording repeatedly. He would have us go "eyeball to eyeball" with our elected officials to lobby for what we want. My buddies were fairly gasping for air when he finished his statements. Yet, the sentiments and reasoning were solid...if amusingly presented.

Patrick had the crowd rocking, very rally-like for a non-rally. If he is chagrined by his stumbles over leased cars and expensive furniture, he didn't show it and the audience didn't blame him.

He was there as the fixer. In the question portion, various citizens tunneled down to their housing situations and the like. Patrick had an aide help taking the particulars when he couldn't direct them immediately.

He made it plain several times that while his team had won, it was time to govern. His refrain was to tell the audience, all voters to come tell the government what must be done. His recurring theme was, "Passive citizenship is not enough. If you want it, come and get it!"

His staff set high expectations, including his newly expanded, in contrast to both the campaign version and the information portal. He claims that the site that came on line yesterday will make it easy to contact specific officials and get answers. Also, we'll have to monitor how and how well it works, but he promised that visitors can locate and start communities of interest to influence the state government.

We should surely recall that he has been in power for only 76 days. He hit the ground standing tall and then running, only to fall on his face a half dozen times as he got the hang of the duties and gimmicks of office.

I contend that while he may have started life very poor, he has spent the vast majority of his years in privilege -- schools, jobs, finances and acquaintances. I see class at issue here. He was long been accustomed to behaving like a rich guy, which he long as been. What's the difference between a Crown Vic and a Caddy to a wealthy lawyer? Maybe nothing, but he now knows that folk will be watching for any misstep to roll in the implications and possibility for schadenfreude.

Patrick hit the right notes and chords yesterday. It is likely that at the future town meetings, the other mayors may be in line with the goals, such as taxing telecommunications companies for lines and poles, adding a 1% meals tax and so forth.

Those other meetings are:
  • March 27, Worcester
  • April 2, Lowell
  • April 3, South Coast
  • April 9, Berkshires
  • April 11, Cape Cod
  • April 17, Springfield
  • April 24, Marlborough
Patrick has made specific promises. I am one of many voters who expects him to keep them.

Note for this blog's interests: There is a same-sex-marriage area on his new site. It is up top and getting a lot of traffic.

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Deval Patrick on Marriage Equality

In the formula, what's the value for:

Good Intentions + Power + Charisma = ?

Our governor claims that he expects it to bring the defeat of the anti-marriage-equality amendment in this year's Constitutional Convention. Speaking to bloggers in Boston Latin's basement room 023 yesterday after his first town-hall meeting, he said he was working with present -- and past -- legislative leaders to make that happen.

I remain to be convinced, but at least the attitude is right.

As a refresher:
  • This amendment would stop same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, taking away rights from one minority by putting discriminatory limits in the constitution for that purpose for the first time.
  • The ballot-initiative process requires a 25% vote of the 200 member legislature in two consecutive ConCon sessions.
  • The last count we saw gave the anti-equality people 56 to 58 votes, plenty to put it on the 2008 ballot, and guarantee a lobbying and vitriol fest for the year and one-half until November 2008.
  • The new senate president, Therese Murray, is a marriage-equality supporter, as is House Speaker Sal DiMasi, but she calls for a vote on the matter and ruled out any parliamentary procedures to defeat it.
  • Politicians and interest groups on both sides are scrambling to lock in votes before a vote, which could come as early as May 5th.
Patrick had the right attitude on what needs to be done short term, but would not commit on fixing the underlying problem of abuse of ballot initiatives. Those were originally put in our constitution (half of states now have the process) to act as a corrective when a legislature has done something really stupid. It was never meant to overturn court decisions or permit trampling the rights of this minority or that. Here and elsewhere, this well-created tool has devolved into a mean-spirited one, one that means refinement to return it to its purpose.

For the ConCon issue though, he said, "Yes, we are unequivocally and already working" to defeat the amendment. He claims to have a strategy in place and that "I think we can win a vote on its merits."

He acknowledged that failure here would have deep, destructive effects. Specifically, floods of outside interest and money would pour on Massachusetts up to the 2008 ballot. That would disrupt the government here, both executive and legislative, when we should be implementing much needed reform. As Patrick put it, "If we don't defeat it in the legislature, that's all we're going to do for the next two years."

On the other hand, he said that returning the ballot initiative process to its original purpose was down the list of his legislative agenda. Face to face on the way out, I urged him to bump it up and said I would like to prevent such abuses as we have seen. As least he responded, "So would I."

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cranky Commentary Locale

The non-political commentary from Marry in Massachusetts has a new home -- Harrumph!

Go there for the cranky posts and social observations that have appeared here from time to time. I'll try to limit this to politics and move such diverse subjects as city bicycling and self-righteousness over there.

So, you should not see the Off Topic warning here again.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

So Much for S.C. Hope and Trust

Dum spiro spero (while I breath, I hope) again seems misapplied as the motto of South Carolina. The Palmetto (or cabbage palm) State staked its claim as Texas East yesterday when its constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or the recognition of such unions from elsewhere took affect.

It is one of the states that piled this on top of its existing law defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. This took affect yesterday and has two key ramifications:
  • There is a strong lesson here to those who would depend upon the kindness of strangers, neighbors and legislators. The passive, go-along-to-get-along and smile-and-say-reasonable-things campaigns failed miserably.
  • A state that would be king maker or at least presidential signpost with its early primary is setting itself up as an outlier. The heyday of gay-marriage bashing was a year and two and three ago. The nation is heading elsewhere in fits and starts.
By the bye, the existing law prohibiting same-sex marriage was strong, reading "Prohibition of same sex marriage. [SC ST SEC 20-1-15] A marriage between persons of the same sex is void ab initio and against the public policy of this State." Legislators and anti-gay groups pushing the amendment invoked the specter of retiring state high-court justices and the vague possibility that a phalanx of liberal freedom lovers might replace them.

Nearly 80% of voters approved the amendment and the House ratified it 92 to 7 (Senate by voice).

Instead of the quiet and often closeted hope (that spero again) that people would not be hypocritical, but act in fairness and support civil rights, out and pushy works better. In such places as Massachusetts and Maine, for example, gay-rights legislation and same-sex-marriage acceptance came from coworkers and neighbors knowing and liking homosexual singles, couples and parents.

Faint heart never won equality.

The actual wording of the amendment is very telling. Constitution Article XVII, Section 15 reads:
A marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This State and its political subdivisions shall not create a legal status, right, or claim respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. This State and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right, or claim created by another jurisdiction respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. Nothing in this section shall impair any right or benefit extended by the State or its political subdivisions other than a right or benefit arising from a domestic union that is not valid or recognized in this State. This section shall not prohibit or limit parties, other than the State or its political subdivisions, from entering into contracts or other legal instruments.
So, a Canadian or Massachusetts SSM is less than red dirt in Columbia or Inman. When in some future decade, they get around to overturning this anti-gay, anti-civil-rights, anti-freedom, pro-discrimination law and amendment, it will be quite a struggle. Surely, that is exactly what the current legislators wanted and got.

Let us muse at the same time on a couple of other unrelated examples of the sandlappers' regression. That same constitution includes:
  • Article VI, Section 2. Person denying existence of Supreme Being not to hold office.No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.
  • Article XVII, Section 4. Supreme Being. No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.
Those surely would not withstand a federal lawsuit. That may become the case with the SSM prohibitions, both from a civil-rights stance and a comity one, but not for a decade or two or three.

The amendment will likely prove a Pyrrhic victory. At least by then, many of today's legislators will be dead or spending their days surf fishing.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Murray Pulls Punches

In a surprisingly sudden follow-up to an earlier post here, new Senate President Therese Murray seems to have given herself the word. She told the AP that she'll go for a vote in the Constitutional Convention. Meanwhile, she 'll work to defeat it with legislative votes.

Good luck, prez, and I mean that, but I retain my skepticism.

Not surprisingly, the anti-marriage equality forces want an early vote. That would give them the best chance to retain their edge and prevent reason and fairness from clouding the emotions of their nearly 60 supporters among the 200-member legislature.

Phrasing it cynically, VoteOnMarriage's Lisa Barstow said, "We think she should go ahead and call for the vote without delay. People don't have an appetite for any more tin-ear politics on Beacon Hill." I read that as, "For our benefit, arrange the vote before our guys notice how weak their position is with voters and the General Court!"

The earliest possible meeting of a ConCon would be May 9th. Recent sessions have met and adjourned for weeks or months, sometimes until December or even just after New Years. There's lots of other legislative business and many lobbyists with possible action on the typically deep ConCon agenda like to have their say, as do lawmakers.

Despite the rush advancement that previous Senate President Bobby Travaglini ended up giving the amendment last time, it sure makes sense for those who want to take away the right for homosexuals to marry to push for quick action.

On the pro-marriage-equality side, MassEquality will join Murray in working the lawmakers to get the 151 of 200 votes to send the amendment to the ignominy it deserves. As Campaign Director Marc Solomon said, "Sen. Murray has been a longtime supporter of marriage equality. We're looking forward to closely working with her and her leadership team to defeat this discriminatory amendment."

There must have been a deep sigh behind that. Murray's pledge puts his effort at a tremendous disadvantage. The anti folk have used every possible weapon and urged legislators to help them. Here, Murray takes some options off the table before even starting.

It's a scary world.

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Good + Bad Will Equal Ugly

  • Good News: New Senate President Therese Murray is solidly for marriage equality and other civil rights.
  • Bad News: Only 50 of 200 legislators in Constitutional Convention are necessary to send the bill to take away marriage rights from homosexuals.
  • Good News: Over 60% of the voters favor leaving same-sex marriages alone, and that percentage is growing.
  • Bad News: Neither Gov. Deval Patrick nor leaders in either house have dared tackle the poisonous, badly abused ballot-initiative process.
  • Good News: Murray could use parliamentary procedures to squash the anti-marriage-equality amendment, as previous Senate President Bobby Travaglini did to advance the amendment and to kill the health-care one.
  • Bad News: We may be a single ConCon vote away from a year and one-half of vitriolic, anti-gay campaigning.
  • Good News: Pro-marriage-equality Sen. Brian Joyce believes that with the governor, senate president and speaker of the house against the amendment, "I’m hard-pressed to see a scenario whereby this matter advances.”"
  • Bad News: Despite their promises to back off when they lose, no matter how they have lost in the past the anti-marriage-equality/anti-gay forces try every method and trick in the book to keep attacking.

So, Murray needs to have a chat with herself first apparently, even before she talks up marriage equality with the General Court members. She seems to have said in her first press conference that she doesn't know whether she'll require an up-or-down vote on the amendment. She claimed that she couldn't say yet whether she'd use Travaglini-style procedural moves. As she put it, "I haven't even discussed that with myself."

I'm in the camp with Bay Windows editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar in writing that it would extremely tough to end up with 151 votes out of 200 to kill the amendment.

That would be a swing of eight legislators who have repeatedly shown that they don't mind stripping a minority of existing rights. It may be irrelevant whether they think voting against SSM will help them stay in office or whether they simply think some kinds of discrimination are okay.

The let-the-people-vote faction of right-wingers and libertarians continues its chant. In the end, that shows two problems. First, the ballot-initiative process was never intended and should not be used to overturn court decisions or to strip existing rights from any minority. The governor and leaders of both houses must make it a priority to return this process to its intent -- altering bad law passed by a confused legislature.

Second, the lefties, including me, have tried so very hard to make nice with the VoteOnMarriage (yours, not ours, they're quick to make clear) folk. They have not and will not return the favor. They want nothing short of their mean-spirited, destructive goals.

No matter when and how they lose, yet again, they are going to scream, pout, stomp, sue, slander, and threaten. Murray needs to be aware that whether she convinces eight legislators to vote for marriage equality or brushes the amendment aside as Travaglini did with the health-care one in January, there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

When and how that happens, she should be on the side of civil rights and fairness. Nothing else makes any intellectual or moral sense.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Marriage Collage Taking Shape

It must be part of that secret gay agenda we keep hearing about. Over in Worcester, the pro-marriage-equality candidate to replace Rep. James B. Leary ran away with the Democratic primary. Up on Beacon Street in Boston, the pro-marriage-equality Sen. Therese Murray is poised to take over from go-for-the-bucks Senate President Bobby Travaglini today.

In Worcester, the union guy from all the way out in West Boylston wasn't supposed to have a chance. Instead, it was a solid win and James O'Day almost certainly will beat unenrolled candidate Joseph Cariglia in a two-way in the April 17th special election to fill the slot.

Under the sacred cod, Murray would have the gavel in this year's Constitutional Convention. She surely won't play Stay Puft marshmallow roll that Travaglini has.

Today's lead editorial in the Boston Globe characterize the out-the-door senate president as "amiable" and wrote that he "performed solidly in his four years as president by seeking the middle ground between the liberal Legislature and the conservative Romney administration." There are many less kind ways to depict his waffling and his lack of support for both economic reform and civil rights. Murray apparently has already told the senators to lift their snouts from the trough and to expect fewer goodies in tight times.

These trends are heartening, but still leave the very real possibility of another year and one-half of screaming, spending and squabbling over the amendment to take away homosexuals' right to marry here. Murray and House speaker Sal DiMasi -- plus the public -- will have to rub a lot of shoulders and whisper in many ears to defeat the amendment.

Her recent pix in papers portray her as something between a harridan and a drug addict -- not flattering. However, images on her state senate page and her personal campaign page make her look like Terry and someone you could a cup of coffee or a cocktail with in comfort.

Much has been made of Murray's downstate cred. She is from Plymouth (or is she?) and supposedly will balance the urban boys and girls in General Court. That's the way her campaign site reads. It makes no mention of her growing up in Boston projects.

She may have fled Cape-ward, but she carries the knowledge of the city and its issues. The pork has been packaged and delivered disproportionately to the suburbs and exurbs. Still, everyone from the tiniest villages to the few real cities moans they don't get enough money.

The biggest part of that is the revenue sharing model that Lt. Gov. Tim Murray (surely no direct relation to Therese) wants to fix. The other major factor, of course, is taxes. We have relatively low taxes contrasted with other states and we'd like to keep it that way. That means fewer d0llars for the General Court to save, spend or squander.

I can't see a huge jump in taxes, but I bet that the two Murrays will make a big difference in how we allocate what we have now.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Speaker, New Day

Well, Bobby Travaglini is finally getting ready to stumble into the counting houses of his wealthy new companions. As the Senate President leaves, the anti-marriage-equality folk surely have high anxiety.

As early as today, under the urging of the other leaders of the General Court, he could finally announce that he is out of there. His certain replacement, Therese Murray, is a real Democrat, a real liberal, and a real supporter of civil rights. I really can't see her pulling the tricks that Bobby did to advance the anti-same-sex-marriage amendment in this year's constitutional convention.

She does not exhibit Bobby's fear of offending social conservatives. Unlike the Boston Herald, I'm not convinced that her being from the South Shore (Plymouth) means much.

As today's Boston Globe notes, there will be a triumvirate in the State House. With House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Gov. Deval Patrick, the opportunity to pass meaningful, overdue reforms and defeat regressive acts and amendments would finally be true. For nearly two decades, the myth of a nominally Democratic legislature being liberally reform minded can actually be real.

Let's all see if Murray's first policy statements mention and announce a course for marriage equality.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mucking Mendicants at Haymarket

Warning: Off topic. A heavy schedule has slowed posting here and will next week as well. Meanwhile, Boston bounces along.

Yes, the Haymarket was open and pushing produce today, slushy St. Patrick's Day 2007. The usual area mendicants did not seem bothered by the icy, windy streets. Nor did they seem lit, unlike so many of the youth already staggering and careering into each other and buildings well before noon.

I normally hit the stalls around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. Today, I arrived in a pout about 11, feeling sorry for myself that our forecast eight inches of snow ended up after 14 hours of drizzle like a vanilla Slurpee. There's no cross-country skiing in a dessert drink.

I live a short drive or shortish walk to either the Arboretum or Franklin Park Golf Course. Given six or more inches of snow, they are mass or private Nordic ski resorts. There is much to write about the coniferous landscape of Arnie's place, with blue spruce sagging with the white stuff. However, Bussey Street and the three tiny parking areas quickly fill with suburban SUVs. The Snooton and Swellesley decals proclaim that suburbanites feel safe enough among the Boston lanes, so long as the Harvard trees are there. It's too damned crowded for a decent ski, no matter how beauteous.

A short distance away, the skiing is better, both for a better choice of terrain and for the still, silent swards and hills. A lot of people remember or have heard of when a trip to Franklin Park could mean a trip to the hospital or the police. Many area folk do not, will not go there...and I thank God for that.

Skiing there is a delight. You are often alone or one of three or four on the whole of it. Some late mornings or early afternoons, a half dozen kids hit the monster hill with their sleds, but they are neither loud nor in the way. Instead, they seem posing for Currier and Ives prints.

It's no matter today, because of the miserable slush. Lackaday.

So instead, I dozed fitfully abed, listening to the rain that was too cowardly even to become sleet. An icy topping would at least have been skiable. The pale mush today was heavy and so wet, it offered no sliding at all. Pout.

My number two son and I shoveled our sidewalks and the neighbor's. Then we did the serious lifting of clearing a car and a van, chiseling out the packed muck the road scrapper piled to the top of the wheel wells. We had to lug each scoop well clear of each vehicle, front or back, and damn, it was heavy stuff.

When the freezing drizzle slowed enough, the best bet to recover the morning was to admit that the Haymarket would be open, with maybe a third or half the vendors as dumb as us regulars. After going there almost every week for 27 years, I have a real Blackstone Street jones. It's a sorry Saturday without the loudness, lip and lushness of the Haymarket. Even on vacation, I miss it. In Paris, I was very pleased to find numerous small and one huge open-air market. It really hurts to pay four times as much to buy fruit at Stop & Shop that will rot before it ripens and will never smell like food. Those Styrofoam tomato-like objects belong in toy stores.

Sure enough, about half the vendors were there. More would like have been too many. Even though the temperature was much warmer than it has been for several Saturdays, few shoppers were there. Most vendors had already begun marking down prices like they do at the end of the afternoon. There's little sense in loading trucks with ready-to-eat fruit, which is also ready to go terribly rotten. Large ripe pineapples were $1 and gorgeous strawberries 75¢ for the pound box.

On the way, I had to swing into the Citizens ATM next to the bagel shop (no longer open on Saturday). Two stalwart scroungers were there. I suppose if I were slight, they might have made me uneasy. They were dirty, but not mean.

They did a good job asking for a dollar, but I said I would get twenties from the machine and wouldn't give them one. Pressed for the dollar, I told them the truth, that number one son had been by the previous evening, needed bus and walking around cash and I pressed my bills on him despite his protest that he probably had enough. Parents!

After the Haymarket, my fresh-food therapy worked. I knew what I'd cook for the next several days and had goodies for everyone at home. It's Santa on the cheap.

I park in free spaces. On the way to the car, I saw clumps of teetering teens -- they can't have been legal drinking age. There was also a regular winter mendicant with his plastic St. Paddy's hat.

He's not there in warm weather. There are definite shifts of the street free lances.

Well, even a few of the Haymarket vendors like to disappear if they can to hide from Boston weather. Poor, rubicund Jimmy has never cared for local winters, but he's often there before 7 a.m. with the bitter wind chill and an unconvincing grin. Ask him and hear, "I hate the cold!"

The bearded and smiling mendicant by the Orange Line entrance seemed sober enough but alert and jolly at 11:30. He was quick with the God bless you for a bit of cash and had plenty of spare "Happy Saint Patrick's Day" greetings for us all.

It often is worth the trouble to be out and about when nature makes you want to hide.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wake Up, Snooze-Papers!

The hero of the day is a newspaper editor who says that most of our local rags lack the vision and guts to keep themselves relevant to readers. Click over to the CJR Daily version of the Columbia Journalism Review for the interview with Scott Goldman, assistant managing editor of visuals at the Indianapolis Star.

He is also president of the Society for News Design. Based in Syracuse, SND gives out annual awards for newspaper and magazine design. They stress integrating content and design. Images of the best newspapers are here. A searchable database is here; note that the most recent winner images won't be up for a month.

Goldman seems to have little patience with the chant that newspapers are victims. That is, they are in hard times because folk get their news from TV and the Net, and the just don't read much. Balderdash, he might have said. Instead, he puts it:
Most American papers are cutting at all costs and then sitting back and wondering why advertisers and the readers aren't coming. There is not yet even one leading newspaper chain willing to say that if we put our resources into building a better newspaper, making something that you can't miss, that is irreplaceable every day, then the readers will come and the advertisers will come. There's no doubt though that in these economic times, it takes guts and it takes someone really stepping forward to be a leader. Unfortunately, that's not happening in this country right now. You're seeing it abroad and even then, only in smaller papers. They truly know their audience. If you can identify that, you can really own something.
I just love it when putative experts concur with my opinions, here for example. The Globe is certainly not the only paper seemingly intent on putting itself in a death spiral. Sure, the board of the NYT and other publicly owned media groups want the highest profits they can get. They are capitalists and may have DUTY TO SHAREHOLDERS etched into their minds if not tattooed on their tushes.

Maybe the current boards of these corporations need to get into different industries, ones simple enough and with high enough returns for them to understand. Various businesses traditionally have high margins -- think software or crack dealing -- and others make it up on volume -- think supermarkets with a 5% or less margin.

There are many non-U.S. winners in the SND contests, an increasing trend. Goldman says:
For the last few years, we've seen that the true innovation in newspaper design is happening outside this country. You see a different attitude toward newspapering in other parts in the world. And I think that must have to do with them not dealing with the bottom line issue as much as American newspapers are.
He implies that giving the reader a reason to subscribe lives in the realm of creativity and clear thinking, of usability and insight. Those are traits we used to brag about and ones likely within our power to achieve -- for those that have the will.

Papers of various sizes in Spain, Estonia and elsewhere manage to get and do it.

Rather than blame everything from cable TV to declining education standards to unions, the NYT/Globe should be humiliated by the failure to remain vital to millions of potential readers and thousands of potential advertisers. As my late mother was fond of saying, "Show some gumption!"

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Slooooow MBTA Wreck

The MBTA transit joke continues. With a script written by the General Court and direction by chief comedian Daniel Grabauskas, the great train wreck plays daily here.

I think the formal title for the comedian is MBTA General Manager and the play itself Forward Funding Follies.

The audience is bored and hostile, and being driven away. Yet the play is all.

Yesterday's act was the announcement that (oh, great surprise) the T will suck $2.5 million from its reserves for the next fiscal year, starting in July. Imagine, when the self-funding of mass transit was built on a clumsy and mathematically impossible pyramid scheme, how could it fall short?

Moreover, when the T got to jack up its prices for decreasing service, and then blew hundreds of millions in a widely disdained and surely nation's-worst automated fare system, how could commuters not rush to take the T to hell?

Oh, wait a minute. Yes, that's right. The forward funding model assumes an endless growth spiral of sales-tax revenue from the flourishing Massachusetts economy and totally revived high-tech sector. That certainly worked for the WWII generation's scheme for keeping war-fueled economic growth lasting forever, didn't it? Oh, no, that didn't work either.

We have ridden this decrepit nag around the track a number of times, like here, here and here. The gist includes:
  • Forward funding was and is an impossible scam, a fantasy.
  • The legislature and previous governors blew this funding model.
  • Regardless of what else is pressing, the legislator and governor must totally revise this to keep the commonwealth efficient and competitive.
  • We should do whatever it takes to make commuter rail and intracity mass transit too attractive to pass up.
  • The true costs of vehicular traffic are often hidden and overlooked -- congestion, pollution, noise, resulting physical and mental diseases, plus the absurd cost per passenger mile in construction, road maintenance, traffic control and on and on.
The delusion in suburban and exurban communities, on Beacon Hill, and particularly in the Transportation Building is that we would be stupid to give mass transit commuters a break on anything. They must pay their way, or else.

The reality is more that it is stupid not to charge minimal or no fare for using mass transit. More commuters and fewer vehicles are great for the economy and health -- in macro and micro senses.

There are repressive-to-liberty-demanding-Americans methods used elsewhere. Consider London-style fees to drive into a major city or much higher gas prices.

Instead, we can accomplish most of what we need by making the MBTA in its various forms less expensive, more frequent and more efficient. We can't do this with the inane and indefensible forward funding model. Our chief comic has long and repeatedly shown that he has neither leadership skills nor vision. Like a stoner teen piling up credit-card debt, the legislature simply does not want to deal the reality of its financial non-planning blunders.

I can't see Senate President Bobby Travaglini, with one wingtip out the door, tackling this. He has passed it up many times already.

This is one area that promises a high rate of return for an investment. That's what our new governor promised repeatedly in his campaign that he'd do. We can come off as heroes and leaders, politically and economically, but first we have to admit the problem and commit to fix it.

Meanwhile, we totter on the trestle while the comedy plays on.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Failure of Generations

Warning: More rambling than usual political philosophizing follows.

My profession -- technical communication -- may be as loopy as lawyers, as picayune as pundits. The president of our professional society reminded me of that again on Wednesday at the Boston-area chapter meeting with her behavior. At our table of 10, she picked, picked, picked. Woe to anyone who pronounced a word differently than the only right way or used another word in a way that failed her ideal or misspoke in any way at all.

She has a reputation for being ill mannered, even for a New Englander. Yet, she was only acting out a common behavior among tech writers and editors. While she is relatively apolitical, she also brought to mind others, particularly right wingers, who live that way. That bodes ill for the liberal ideal of finding common ground and working for agreed aims across political divides.

Different Ways of Thinking

Achieving progressive goals together doesn't work when one side revels in what Emerson called a foolish consistency. The whole passage from Self-Reliance is instructive:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
I fear the conflicts in this divisive era may pivot on this trait. There seems little chance for agreement when one side relies on clever quibbling rather than dealing with the related ideas and what would be useful and humane behavior. By its nature, rote behavior excludes discovering and adopting the best and the fairest actions and policies.

This does not fall only to Emerson's narrow set. Lawyers, for example, are trained to use a sort of pattern recognition to identify small points they can exploit. Of course, my own profession tends to rely on precision for clarity in communication. Such groups end up with their bags of rules. Using these are so much easier than thinking.

Politically, this huge character flaw is not exclusively a right-wing trait. However, the public faces of self-identified conservatives often revel in this childish behavior. Think Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill Buckley, Robert Novak and dozens of similar folk.

From personal and unscientific observation, I have noticed that the little-minded are often only children or first born. Their parents told them how clever and quick thinking they are. They didn't get to be minutiae mongers without a catalyst.

By their teens though, they live an ISO 9000 sort of life. In a very personal version of those industrial consistency procedures and processes, they have largely learned to rely on one right way to do, say or think. A common observation among those of us who have been through ISO certifications is that consistency for its own sake has nothing to do with the best or the highest quality. You can do the same stupid things again and again in the same stupid ways and they meet the requirements.


This has come to mind here recently. Several trolls have visited. When they violate the blog commenting policy, it's a click of the Reject button. Even beyond profanity and personal assaults, we are not here to offer another stage for the hobgoblin-ridden.

Yet, I know that I am another of those squishy liberals, perhaps the worst type of all, a Unitarian Universalist one, when I sense the disconnects. We often spongy do-gooders can lament not being able to broker agreement. We can consider it a personal failure of both intellect and emotion.

That is a failure I am learning to accept and not internalize too much. I have become increasingly convinced that there is not sufficient middle ground and certainly not enough good will from the re-entrenched and disfavored right-wingers. If they insist on bypassing the underlying ideas and picking nits to reassure themselves of their positions, we must leave them in their corners doing those things. Eventually, even they will notice the world passing along.

Fizzling Out

On a main theme of this blog, marriage equality, we are seeing that the slow social evolution of America continues to creep in the positive direction. Not only has the Chicken Little squawking of the anti-gay/anti-SSM folk been far too wrong for far too long, the inexorable march of Korean War Era and Baby Boomer types to the grave is culling the herd for the better.

As a Boomer, I had a fantasy that my generation would keep the momentum of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War struggles. When we got into power, boy, would things be different.

Well, yes, but much less dramatically that I anticipated. The just-right-wing-enough-to-stultify-progressivism Congress is largely my generation. We see from polls and voting behavior that it is the Gen-X and younger sorts who are likely to manifest the equality the Boomers should have continued seeking.

For one example, the newest large polls of Californians show that the Boomers are not ready to legalize SSM, but their kids are. Moreover, it is more extreme comparing Koren War Era folk with those in their 20s. Acceptance of SSM was 25% for those born before 1940 and 58% for those born in the 1980s.

This is very consistent with numerous other polls over the past several years. Simply put, the Gen-X and Gen-Y people tend to answer the what-about-SSM question, with "What's the big deal?"

Likewise, Pew Research findings have consistently shown that young adults are apathetic to many of the political triggers of their parents and grandparents. In particular, interracial marriage, homosexuality and same-sex marriage are yawners to the 18 to 26 year olds.

All the water hasn't been treated though. The saturation of civil-liberties and marriage-equality minded is convincing by any standard of voters, but not 100% or even 85%. About 60% will be plenty to affect change as this group gets into power. In fact, as they become a big percentage of the voting population, their wishes will affect legislation. Politicians know how to stay in power.

Younger Reinforcements

I still wish the Boomers had kept their passions and morals on the larger good for longer. Yet, this is one of the strongest patterns in my lifetime.
  • The WWII folk fought the Axis powers to keep the world safe for democracy -- but had no problem afterward keeping women, Blacks and others down so they could prosper.
  • The Korean War Era American also fought on the battlefields and stood up to communism -- and then the Entitlement Generation, as they are known to sociologists, turned on the rest of us to make sure they got and get their benefits no matter what it costs the nation and world.
  • The early Boomers led in extracating us from Vietnam, in integrating a still divided nation, and in establishing women's rights -- only to forget what was right and necessary when they got into power in their 40s and 50s.
We can skip the later Boomers, seemingly oblivious to history, rights and the struggles. Then the Gen-X and Gen-Y types have a shot at picking up the placards and shields of the causes their parents, the Boomers, left on the battlefields of progress.

We Boomers bought wholesale the images and expectations of equality the WWII parents and teachers offered us (hour after hour). Some of that was propaganda, but it was all effective. There were good guys versus bad ones, hero versus villain, liberty versus oppression, right versus wrong...

Our parents didn't really mean equal rights for all, if that included the dark skinned or women or homosexuals. We didn't learn that until we started demanding it, but by then it was too late. We had bought into it all.

Many Boomers deservedly can be called on their hypocrisy and their abandonment of the good fight. Amusingly, their children, now in the 20s, also bought into this. In addition, they have the advances made in the last 40 years of the 20th Century as a base. It's no surprise that they have a broader, fairer sense of equality than previous generations.

Each of the past several generations has run ahead, only to tire, stagger and lose its way. I eagerly wait to see how far the 20-somethings can get.

As a group, we Boomers got tired. It is likely to be as they bury us that many of the rights and causes we let slip from our minds become reality. Thus it seems to be yet again and forever.

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