Friday, October 31, 2008

Ethnic's Ethics on Beacon Hill

It was the Deval and Sonia show at the State House today. Each came at ethics from one angle. First in his office, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a voter placation task force to scramble for ethics and lobbying reform measures for January's legislative session. An hour later, almost certain Second Suffolk Senate winner Sonia Chang-Díaz got to be gracious about her disgraced write-in opponent, incumbent Dianne Wilkerson.

Individually, these press events were fine. Together, they frame the current and lingering public concerns well. Assuming that the resulting legislation Patrick wants to file and have passed in the first 30 days of the new session have substance and penalties, it could be an ethics boost. Diogenes knows, we could use honesty and ethics around here.

Patrick remains as always attuned to public perception. He said dramatically that "I do think there's some air to be let in this building and some light that needs to be shone..." He also attempted to distance himself and the legislature from what he repeatedly referred to a few who cast a pall on the many good ones.

Then in response to a question about transparency and open meetings, Patrick added, "I do think there's some air that needs to be let in this building, some light that needs to be shone on our work.

Perhaps his best line was in response to another question implying that Wilkerson needed swift and full punishment. He said that "being a leader is not leading a mob." He would not be backed into scapegoating Wilkerson.

More rules with harder penalties

The task force will have until New Year's (a two-month drill?) to produce a package for Patrick. The idea is to examine existing ones, fill in the gaps, and make sure the penalties are nasty enough to prevent evil doing.

The bipartisan group will have Ben Clements as head. He is Patrick's legal counsel and has been a federal prosecutor. He served four years in the Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit among other tenures. Patrick did not announce the rest of the panel, describing them only as "experts and other distinguished participants."

That panel seems to be an effort to distance the administration from the likes of Senators Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzelli, as well as allegations that Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi is loose getting and giving favors. Interestingly enough, Patrick was slick in not naming names. However, some press members were quick to bring in all three of those and ask Patrick if he had to bear responsibility for their alleged actions. It wasn't hard for him to brush those aside with a no or two or three.

Surprise in the box

What caught everyone's attention was an ancillary proposal for reforming home rule. Of course, here that oxymoronic phrase means the opposite, that cities and towns have to beg the state for permission to rule themselves per case.

From his statement on this, Patrick's refreshing take on this is:
The current home rule structure dates from the 1960s and guarantees that the Legislature and the Executive spend an inordinate amount of time deciding when and how localities can tax, borrow, regulate private and, and make rules for municipal elections. Forty percent of all legislation passed over the last two years was local laws that affect only one community. Sponsors of home rule bills are often forced to expend a great deal of time and political capital to get non-controversial, purely local matters moving and enacted, rather than working on matters of broader concern.
Governors have been loath to give up such childish power. Yet, Patrick noted that we need to be about the business of enabling economic development as well as streamlining government. He's willing to let municipalities get on with it, or so he claims. I hope that's straight and it happens. He said accurately and candidly that home-rule petitions presently are bargaining chips that the State House and various city halls play. It's time to stop.

Civility's back in town

Following Sen. Wilkerson's disgrace, the Senate's vote to ask her to resign, and her subsequent stoppage of her sticker campaign, Chang-Díaz must have felt like she was on a carnival ride, whiplash. She hit the well in front of the big steps to the State House all conciliatory and sweet.

She does need to mix up her phrasing a bit. Much of her message was in the same words of the campaign — like the voters shouldn't have to choose between progressive politics and responsible representation. On the other hand, she's four days from victory and is wary of appearing to change anything.

She hit the perfect tones, including:
  • She was shocked and saddened by "the events of the last few days." She didn't accuse Wilkerson of anything nor blame her.
  • She praised Wilkerson for deciding to announce she was stopping her write-in/sticker campaign. "Today, Senator Wilkerson did act with the best interests of our community at heart, setting us on the path to rebuilding confidence, and for that I thank her."
  • She reached out to disappointed and confused Wilkerson people. "I want to take one moment to speak especially to the voters and activists who've supported Senator Wilkerson over the years. I want to ask for your partnership too. We've all worked so hard on both sides of this election because we all feel keenly the needs of our community and are moved to be part of the solution rather than bystanders. I salute your activism and I ask for your help, your expertise, your experience, your agenda in the weeks and months to come."
Surely it must have been tempting to stick a thumb in the eye of the Wilkerson people who have accused Chang-Díaz of not being dark enough skinned, or those delusional types who want to believe that Wilkerson was framed. I hope it lasts because right now Chang-Díaz is a earnest progressive voice with social skills we rarely see around here.

At question time, the broadcast types around her were gentler than the print types upstairs at Patrick's show. One fellow (coincidentally the only black man in the corps) did remind Chang-Díaz that regardless of Wilkerson's statement, people would be writing her in or using stickers. She responded that she took nothing for granted and would be campaigning right up to the election. In fact, she was combining trick or treating and campaign doorbell ringing this evening.

As for Patrick, a couple of self-important reporters asked ethics question that were as subtle as a Fung Wah bus coming at him from across the parking lot. Did he bear responsibility for DiMasi's allegations or Wilkerson's charges and such. Of course, he sidestepped those with negative responses as easily as though he were avoiding that big old bus.

Now it seems to fall to us. First, we can watch the reforms Patrick will introduce, weigh them and see if they make a difference. He concluded his remarks with his standard fare of calling for involvement. This time, he asked citizens to:
  • Run for office locally or at the state level
  • Tell their officials what they want and hold them accountable otherwise
  • Vote
He turned all high minded, claiming he expected and welcomed challengers in 2010. He said officials all have to earn their office each election. Also, as a sideline in response to a question, he said he definitely would not be headed to D.C. if his friend Barack Obama becomes president elect next week.

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Haters Can't Work the Mall

The dwindling party that is MassResistance blew it big time again. They (maybe just Brian Camenker) couldn't work the clipboards and card tables well enough to gather the sigs to advance a petition to reinstate those anti-gay marriage laws from 1913.

Over at BayWindows, Ethan Jacobs reports on the latest MR failure. After getting approval to gather signatures, MR had until October 29th to collect 33,297 for the next stage. Actually and realistically the number would be 40,000 or so to accommodate fake and uncertifiable sigs. Instead, it was about 10,500 — about a quarter or a third of what MR needed.

You may recall that other anti-same-sex marriage and anti-gay groups like Mass. Family Institute punked out on this one. Lining up with MR for other ballot initiatives sapped their resources and colored them with the same loser stencil.

BW reports:
"The fact is this is a huge relief," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "It’s not that we were afraid we’d lose the ballot question, it’s that it would have taken so many resources, so much money and time and effort to defeat it, it would have been all-consuming, and it would have taken those resources from other issues."
So, there's something pro- and anti-equality types have in common. A combination of fringe groups and ballot initiative can drain an organization.

This failure is another arrow pointing the way to voter fatigue with such alarmists as MR. I figure their counterpart in Maine, the formerly Christian Civic League (now wearing Main Family Policy Council clothes) is in similar straits. SSM supporters and GLBT groups hesitate to ease off on the haters. I'm willing to consider them impotent if not totally gone.

Meanwhile, over at MR, there's not one word on what Brian's known for weeks about this failure. He also hasn't mentioned the disgrace of a stripping staffer who was apparently caught photographing kids at middle school for an MR documentary, as he put it.

I guess you just can't get good help anymore.

Afternoon Follow-up: After the BW report, MR did finally 'fess up. Even with what Brian claims was 300 helpers, they apparently ran out of fingers and toes and were surprised at how few sigs they had. He characterized it as the most difficult initiative ever, being based on principle only, having no effect on commonwealth residents. That didn't stop him from kvetching mightily — harrassed by gay activists, the public terrorized that their names would be public reocrd, no help from the R.C. Church or MFI, and not enough out-of-state money. That last one's right, "...we were counting on out-of-state donors to help with funding," he wrote, although that is the number one slam against GLBT organizations here, true or not.

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Atlas Shuddered At Last

Dead for 26 years, Alisa Rosenbaum who transformed herself into Ayn Rand has had an astonishing presence in Washington and New York power circles. I know from my own youth how enticing and intoxicating her ideas are — from unfettered capitalism to heady sexuality.

From cabinet members to the Cato Institute to former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, Randists abound. Many libertarians identify as such as well. Surely the most powerful of the set was Greenspan, who largely directed our economy for four decades.

Greenspan recently admitted to a Congressional committee that his model of 40 years was flawed (of course, not that he was). Most telling was his almost-confession at the end of his testimony — "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."

That is in fact a backdoor repudiation of the most essential tenet of Randist philosophy and literature. Even President Ronald Reagan used a variation in his trickle-down economics lie. We had also heard that during the Robber Baron period and earlier in slavery and feudal periods. Trust those in charge of an economy to do what is best for even the lowliest of the underlings. They are wealthy and powerful because they are wiser than ordinary schmucks.

Greenspan's mealy mouthed admission that unregulated capitalism failed the nation and the world will not change the minds and hearts of other Randists. Those who don't know the Who is John Galt? question and who have never read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged are missing essential concepts that work in our society and government. Even if you disdain Rand's cry for laisse-faire capitalism, you should know what's at work.

I write this knowing that if the Reason maggy folk run across the post, they are likely to leave, shall we say vivid, comments here and in their own forum. The Randist sorts tend to what Emerson called a foolish consistency. Like too many academicians, no nit is too small to pick and no moot point is above being named the major sin of a false premise.

That's okay. I've been there and been that person.

I was 15 and just entering 10th grade in a new city in a new state when I picked up my mother's copies of Rand's two major works. I loved them. I played the characters. I found girlfriends as eager to be my submissives. I found a level of self-righteousness previously unknown. From what I hear from high-school classmates, I was right obnoxious.

The time to grok Randism is when you are immature and when you have a high need for absolutes. Ayn Rand didn't do ambiguity. As she made clear in her writings and lectures, unsureness is weakness.

An English teacher whom I respected greatly pulled me aside to discuss Rand at the end of one school day. She told me that she too had been enamored of the philosophy and its absolute clarity, down to personal relationships. By the time she got to the you'll-outgrow-it remarks, I was very irritated. I had found what was true and what worked. She clearly had aged badly and was now weak.

A great benefit from Randism for a high-school student is the clarity of interpersonal dealings. A dated several girls who were into the same books and ideas. Each joined me in the theater of the ideas. I got to play the heroic, manly anti-collectivist guy. They were strong with others, would debate me, but in the end yielded to my masculinity. It was sweet all around, particularly as other teens foundered in insecurity in ill-defined relationships. Randism flourishes where it can override and eliminate ambiguity.

In college, I met grad students who came to Randism late in life. I even interviewed a group (let's not say collective) of them as a Radicals for Capitalism "club," replete with a silly dollar-sign flag. They were sort of sad and not a little comical. It is far better to come into this at 15 and then outgrow or refine it rather than become a true believer as an adult.

While I think I moved beyond all that, they made it clear they retained access to truth while surrounded by moral weaklings. For me, I think of an example of a folk song my friend Joel Blumert used to sing in the basement club, Leon's, in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Mitch Greenhill's Won't You Tell Me includes:
I'm just trying, momma
I'm just trying, momma
Trying, trying to be a man
You can have it, if you understand
My Randist self first heard those lyrics and knew immediately that they were cowardly and unmanly. I was positive that we make our own way, our own selves.

I came over years, as my mother did, to see as plainly that life is not that simple or absolute. Sometimes happenstance, good or bad luck and the intervention of others determines how you fare. That's where that nasty ambiguity intrudes, make you reevaluate and adjust. You're still in charge, sort of.

I have a lot of differences with libertarians and specifically Randists. Yet, I have this history and have felt the related extremely powerful emotions that I conflated with pure reason. I would neither denigrate them nor underestimate them.

The most annoying trait of Randists is one you can hear in public question periods and debates, particularly in colleges. They are wont to interrupt a speaker, even one answering their questions, to pick what seems to others as the smallest nit. The concept is that if a single statement, premise in their lingo, is wrong, then the entire position or argument is totally worthless. In contrast, those who can deal better with ambiguity and complexity can assess an entire argument to decide its merit in its entirety.

Those are vastly different ways of reasoning. That makes compromise and agreement nearly impossible.

Those who have never felt the strong tug of the Randist gravitational field can be taken aback by such absolutism. Yet, in the least, be aware that there are many such in think tanks, government service and political parties — libertarian of course, but also Republican.

Greenspan was not the only Randist in a powerful position, just the most powerful of them. You can have your Greenspan, while I stick with Greenhill.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nov. 4th, Let Me Drive

How did I wait so long to tell people what to do? Could it be that I assume readers have paid a little attention and know my picks for next Tuesday?

Just in case, the obligatory command is to vote, even if for some unfathomable reason you don't concur 100% with me.

From that base:

President: Obama and Biden. There's no contest here, even with six teams running. We have barely survived GOP fantasies and blunders.

U.S. Senator: John Kerry. Jeff Beatty is beady eyed and just plain nasty. Kerry has been so inspired by his competitors this year, any complaints of his shortcomings no longer hold.

Question 1: No to state personal income tax repeal. It's a silly game that would just shift taxes to local property ones, meanwhile stripping social services while returning maybe $300 to middle-class families and benefiting the richest with big bucks.

Question 2: Yes on changing possession of an ounce or less of pot to a fine instead of jail. Dealers are still up up for hard time and the courts and jails shouldn't have to spend lots of money for victimless crimes.

Question 3: Yes on stopping greyhound racing. It's a cruel sport that will disappear of its own boredom in a few years. Meanwhile, why torture the dogs? The track owners now are only in it in hope of gaining casino rights. Tell 'em to take a hike or to chase a mechanical rabbit.

Second Suffolk Senate: Sonia Chang-Díaz. Don't be a total fool by using a sticker for Dianne Wilkerson. William Leonard seems like a swell fellow, but he has a very narrow range of interest in a job that requires a broad one.

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Wilkerson's Anchor Sinks

It's been all I can do to keep my fingers from twitching. Everyone, his brother, aunt and neighbor has been talking and writing about Dianne Wilkerson's final decent into political hell. There's no need for me to pile on, particularly as much as I have written about her, starting in 2006.

It's very safe to say that there's far more than enough evidence of corruption to put her in federal prison for decades. It's likely though that she'll do as she has in one set of crimes after another — cut a plea deal. In this case, she's likely to trade testimony against others as part of that. Even her most irrational and emotional supporters will have to scramble to find any honor or justification in that.

The shock and disappointment (and dread of association) of her public supporters, like Tom Menino and Deval Patrick, are widespread. However, the local papers had little problem finding constituents eager to say she is being punished because of her race. The most poignant comments came from her mother in North Carolina, from where by phone she advanced circular reasoning that Dianne didn't take bribes because she wouldn't take bribes.

Surely though, the accurate gauge of opinion in the black community is in today's Bay State Banner. The very faithful, sometimes mindless so, paper withdrew its repeated endorsement. It seems too much is finally enough.

The editorial tries to cover the Banner's butt a bit, but gives it up at the end:

...The Bay State Banner has always endorsed Wilkerson’s achievements, even though her administrative irregularities were troubling....The Banner viewed these charges as unfortunate blemishes on an otherwise productive career...The photographic evidence in support of these (most recent) charges is compelling; investigators also claim to have audio and video recordings of Wilkerson’s misdeeds. It is evident that Wilkerson has breached the public trust. Consequently, the Banner can no longer support Wilkerson for public office.

Except for their previously unflagging support for Wilkerson, the Millers over at the Banner have been pretty traditionally moralistic and socially conservative. They frequently editorialize about those in the black community getting a fair shake, but taking responsibility for their own efforts. The amount of abuse of trust that Wilkerson has had to pile up to drive the Banner to today's decision is weighty indeed.

Any pleasure I felt over seeing Wilkerson driving herself to the edge of hell and then insisting on diving into the fiery lake is long gone. The tedium of watching the arrogant destroy themselves is in the end only boring and annoying.

In her first campaign, the one to replace Sen. Bill Owens, her catchphrase was "We can do better." In the current one, it has been "This district is not for sale." She put the lie to both of those so many times that she finally has run out of others to blame.

I have no doubt that Chang-Díaz will be that better Senator. She'll do well and do the right thing by all constituents, black ones included.

The sense of ownership of that seat has taken a big hit though. Wilkerson robbed the district of their black Senator. We certainly need more legislators of color, but honest and honorable ones.

It's likely time to consider better ways of increasing to fairer representation in both houses of the General Court. The single "reservation-style" districting for a black Senator may not be the only or best approach. After Wilkerson proved to be a single point of failure, and one who failed, the tenuousness of that strategy is obvious. As we have seen and heard from myriad comments about Chang-Díaz not being dark enough to suit some pols and some voters, Boston doesn't seem ready for any post-racial world. It appears to be time to revisit the options for fair representation.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kerry's Path Out of Economic Hell

"Now, (as during the New Deal time), we need fundamental change — not bit sized ideas that are poll tested, sound-bite ready and destined to be mere footnotes to the times we live in," U.S. Sen. John Kerry said yesterday. "It's time we end the era of inncrementalism and begin a bold new age in progressive politics."

Regular readers don't click here for newspaper-style full speech coverage. More often when I attend a political speech, I get snippets and the gist, as in Kerry's address last week at Tufts' Fletcher School.

That was one bookend of a pair. Designed as the foreign-policy/security portion, it was as much an Obama rallying cry as Kerry's ideas. In contrast, this economics address was the real thing. After the opening oral glad handing, it was all Kerry and all significant.

I didn't see the dailies in Lynn in the North Shore Community College's gym, nor do today's papers carry Kerry coverage. They truly missed out and will have to get with the program. Fortunately, Kerry's people sent the text of the speech around by email.

Our junior Senator is a key player here. Assuming an Obama victory and maybe even a 60-seat/filibuster resistant Senate majority, we can expect progressives to begin fixing the economic failures.

Podcast note: Over at Left Ahead!, we didn't do our usual Tuesday podcast, so the three of us could attend this one and get a 10-minute interview after it. We're still hoping for the real thing, but that's a start.

In Lynne, Kerry stepped up to the mic with everyone likely thinking, "Bailout. Okay. What now?" After buffeting us with a grim recounting of our national and local troubles, and how they came to visit us, he laid it out.

Kerry doesn't do folksy all that well. He started by saying "I didn't come her to be the skunk at the party" in describing the economic chaos and wall of challenges. He later roasted that chestnut about the man not sending his brother who thinks he's a chicken to a mental institution — because we need the eggs — as a metaphor for financial institutions' fantasies about the many billions of dollars of instruments that failed. The latter trope served to muddle the serious subject rather than distract from it.

What he does well is reasoned strategy and tactics. He is the candid and complete strategist that current GOP nominee and Prez pretend to be be.

His address was on national needs and solutions, but he didn't spare the local details. A home somewhere is foreclosed on every 10 seconds and 160,000 lost U.S. jobs last month (over 4,000 in Massachusetts). Also, here home values continuing to drop, recently by 9%, and five metropolitan areas in the nation's top 100 foreclosure locales.

Even in the years leading to the current crisis, "as the Dow reached an all-time high, average real income stayed flat while the cost of health card, education, food, gas and home heating oil have soared," he said, adding "I all that 'Bushonomics' (which) may be felt for some time to come."

Bitter Shot, Hope Chaser

The I-am-not-the-skunk still iterated what he said at Tufts, that the worst of the economic collapse continues. More people will lose jobs, more companies and banks will fail, and in general, we are looking at only the beginning of the recovery.

Like a true progressive though, Kerry said he was excited out the upside on the other side of this mess. That is because we have a chance, and really no option, but to fix the fundamentals. That includes finally paying the bill for our crumbling national infrastructure, much as President Franklin Roosevelt did during the New Deal. We can also reverse the absurd and untenable transfer of wealth from the middle class and small businesses to the top tiny percentage of people and corporations.

As my own comment not and not Kerry's, it is three decades past time to call Randist free-market scheme as practiced under Alan Greenspan, as well Reaganomics and the Bush/Bush variations for the unworkable lies they are. The crazy, irrational and often disproved trickle-down theory doesn't, hasn't and won't work. The wealthiest companies and pseudo-aristocrats almost to a one do not let their money help the plebes. It wasn't true in the 1890 or the 1990s or now.

Instead, Kerry calls for:
  • Meaningful financial-industry regulation. The GOP strategy of deregulation led to, among many defects, banks and brokerages having up to 44:1 leverage on investment, impossible to pay back when called. The crisis reflects "a profound failure to govern the market," said Kerry.
  • Bailout mandates. "(W)e still need to do more to get this right and make sure banks don’t just take taxpayer dollars—but keep their promise to lend it back to hardworking people."
  • Bailout repayment. Our now breathtaking national debt is, on paper, in for the bailout. Kerry joins the call to buy those bad assets at 10¢ to 30¢ on the original dollar. He anticipates that they will appreciate in a few years to 60¢ to 80¢ and when the government resells the mortgages and other securities, the relative profit goes back in to reduce that national obligation.
  • Infrastructure overhaul and improvement. At least $100 billion to bring efficiencies and new jobs through energy, transportation and technology is sort of a new New Deal.
  • Small biz boost. Temporarily eliminate small-business stock capital-gains taxes and providing better lines of credit for these companies. A corollary to that is eliminating tax breaks for companies who send U.S. jobs off shore.
  • Help for the poor. Costs for the poorest are up while income is steady or down. Kerry proposed temporarily increasing Earned Income Tax Credits by $300.
  • More jobs now and soon. A WPA-style set of transportation projects (59 totalling over $180 million in this state ready to go right now if funded) would put more people to work and more money in the economy
  • Help for states. Half the states already have deficits (we are looking at over $1 billion this time here). "Washington needs to send $25 billion to states for health care, education and basic social services."
The infrastructure aspect was particularly keen for Kerry both in Somerville and Lynn. Central to the program would be massive investments — through deficits if necessary (likely) — to invest in energy technologies. This would have two major aims: 1) virtually eliminating the need for petroleum fuels by innovating in solar, thermal, wind and other clean, renewable forms and 2) creating millions of new, sustainable U.S. jobs and making America the sources for licensing and leading as it used to be in computers and software. Along the ways, the hundreds of billions of dollars a year that go overseas would stay here.

Beyond the financial institution bailout, the other components make up the larger economic stimulus Kerry sees at steps to a stable future. Drawing comparisons to Roosevelt's recovery plans, he added " tough economic times, the government needs to step up and do what it takes to keep the lights on. Now, as then, crisis brings with it an opportunity to invest in rebuilding America. And if we’re living in the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, why not respond with the greatest national rebuilding since the New Deal?"

Kerry said it will be a slow slog out the mess that took so many so long to produce. As he put it, "This won't happen overnight, but it will happen much faster if we invest today and drive innovation in a way we haven't seen since FDR first brought electricity to million s of homes across America. " At Tufts too, he said we can't drill our way out of trouble, but we can invent our way out. I'd add that this is an economic strategy that, unlike trickle-down theor, has reason and history behind it.

He concluded with a rousing call:
History gives us moments. It’s up to us to decide what to do with them. Let’s use this one to make hardworking America more secure in the short run, stronger in the long run, and ready to make the 21st century an American century.
I actually preferred what I see as a great conclusion earlier in the address — "We don't need leaders who will tell voters, 'The fundamentals of our economy are strong.' We need leaders who will make them strong!"

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wilkerson Completes Self-Destruction

Legally bruised and morally bleeding, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson finished her final plunge today, with a shove from the FBI. There's little for even her faithful to do other than revile her and despair of their own naivete.

I come not to chasten the fallen former hope of Boston's black community. Let us bury her career and perhaps learn from this prolonged theater of misdoing.

Temporal Note: I had arrived in Lynn for Sen. John Kerry's speech when Wilkerson's arrest became public. I had lots of time and took a lunch rather than try to post quickly.

After numerous posts on this site (search above for Wilkerson if you must), I was ready to combine my findings with more research. It turns out that a very definitive piece that pivots on her is out there. In 2003, Commonwealth published the Michael Jonas piece Black power: Why are African-Americans still struggling to get ahead in Boston politics?

It covers:
  • The political manufacture of a minority Senate district.
  • The extreme hopes for the bright and ambitious Wilkerson.
  • The several high-profile black men and women who chose not to run for various high offices.
  • The role of various mayors and how the School Committee is chosen.
  • Wilkerson's first ignoble fall in a tax scandal.
Black, Latino and Asian constituents are nowhere near represented in the General Court, City Council or the mayoralty. Jonas described the compromises that led to a black Senate seat as well as the demographic and cultural limits on expanding representation.

We do have a smattering of minority brains on Beacon Hill and a somewhat fair Council. In total, this may not be as segregated as parts of Boston or the rest of the commonwealth, but it's pretty 19th Century.

Between scandals, Wilkerson had pledged to help increase members of color in the General Court. That seemed more bluster than action. Similarly, she had come to power by defeating ex-convict Bill Owens with the high-minded call of "We can do better. I know we can."

She was a week short of a thumping by a new reformer, Sonia Chang-Díaz. Now we'll surely never know how accurate my predictions of a big loss would have been. You would have to pretty much spit on democracy and decent government to use a sticker or write in the candidate caught on file and tape taking repeated bribes to taint her office and subvert the legislative process.

Instead, the Senate will still have a woman of color, but still only one. Yet how bitter that must be for Wilkerson supporters, even those who have been accusing Chang-Díaz of not being dark skinned enough to suit them. There, in the end, is only one person to point at for the loss of the black voice in the Senate.

We do have several black and Latino members of the House and there is a Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus. What there doesn't seem to be is any form of effective development and mentoring to increase representation.

Jonas notes in his article that potential legislators and other pols need first to be identified and then recruited. I'd hold that in the middle, even before getting an agreement to run, they would need existing or even past lawmakers to act as mentors and to sponsor them. There's no reason the legislators need to be of the same race or culture, particularly as there are a lot more white men and women available to help.

Someone is sure to do a definitive piece or maybe even a book on Wilkerson's promise, rise and repeated stumbles, staggers and falls. That process could well reveal that there were too many expectations and pressures on the then hungry, young standard bearer. On the other hand, the understory might be that she was arrogant and without a moral compass. Regardless, it would be useful to understand why things went wrong. Yet the word that strongly comes to mind is pathetic.

As to what needs to go right, that is much plainer. Eastern Massachusetts has numerous bright, accomplished and honorable minority adults. Exactly who is willing to steer them to public service and be their sponsors or find those sponsors is another matter entirely.

Wilkerson's wipe-out is surely a bitter disappointment to many. It need not impede the overdue development of other legislators of color. It may even be reasonable for each state lawmaker to groom one or two candidates for office. That's a long process and some would drop out before running, but students and young professionals should know that making laws and representing their constituents is an option, one that it is both desirable and possible.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Barney Tweaks the Twit on Marriage

Reversing their political positions, Earl Sholley is left and Barney Frank is right here. Their marriage-equality posts were plainly occupied Sunday when they debated in Wellesley.

The best coverage was in PolitickerMA. While ostensibly the three-way debate (Dem. Frank, GOP Sholley and Ind. Susan Allen, all on ballot) was about big issues, same-sex marriage provided the pop and snap.

Of course, they got to bailout differences and Allen centers on the gutlessness of Congress in not confronting the Bush administration on illegal wars, wiretapping and the like. Near the end of their hour though, the moderator asked about SSM.

I'm sorry I was not there for the theatre. Sholley unabashedly holds 19th Century positions couched in current winger terms. Frank is as strong a supporter of GLBT issues, including marriage equality. Allen turns out to go with Frank on this topic, although she has not campaigned on any related planks.

Apparently, she didn't join in the fight. She simply said, "I am pro choice when it comes to marriage. Each person has a right to marry whomever they most dearly love."

In contrast, Sholley:
  • Believes that "having gay marriage diminishes the value of the instituteion of marriage...a sacred pact between a man and a woman and it is so ordained by God."
  • States that SSM "isn't a civil rights issue."
  • Claims that homosexuality is a choice.
  • Said, "There is no gay gene."
He apparently let it out, including, "In fact, there is a lot of evidence to indicate...I believe that it's obsessive compulsive behavior it's been estimated that 80% of homosexuals were sexually abused as children. I think we should be helping these people."

For his part, Frank elicited audience cheers by calling the gay-by-abuse canard "nonexistent." He also pointed out the obvious about our years of SSM here not harming marriage at all.

Sholley had brought the frequent chant of anti-SSM types that commonwealth voters had been denied the chance to be heard on the issue. As PolitckerMA quotes Frank's response:

As far as putting the issue to a vote, Frank noted that in both the 2004 and 2006 Massachusetts statewide elections, gay marriage was a central issue on which every candidate was asked to take a side. And, Frank said, Bay State voters elected a legislature "that voted by about 77 percent in favor of same-sex marriage."

"I believe the voters do know what they are doing and I believe the voters showed their choice," he said.

A quick Net tour of Sholley citations shows his political roots and tracks. He does not fear running against established lefties. For example, he got his hat handed to him in 2000 and 2002 by state Sen. Cheryl Jacques.

In those races, he fired the full range of winger weapons, from tax-and-spend liberal to feminist agenda. He wasn't even subtle about his anti-gay angle on the openly out Jacques. "Many people don't like her lifestyle choice. She came out of the closet almost flaunting it and saying this is who I am and if you don't like it, then too bad. Her whole attitude is that she thinks that women are superior to men. This is problematic when raising children. She thinks that she can be a father and she can raise two boys and they don't have to know how they originated and who their father was. How is that going to make them feel when they get to the age of reason?"

He also divorced and became active in The Fatherhood Coalition. Men are screwed over by courts, and like that. As spokesman for the group, he seemed willing to blame a man murdering his wife and severely injuring their two daughters on not getting custody of the kids.

Nowadays, he's big on state and federal DOMA (one-man/one-woman marriage) laws. He uses MassResistance-style phrases to describe the Goodridge decision — "The judges who gave us gay marriage should be in jail or impeached at the very least. It is not their job to make law from the bench. " He has similar sentiments for the General Court — The vote "to deny the People the right to vote (reverse SSM by initiative) was elitist, arrogant, and tyrannical. It was a disgrace and a sham... most of the legislature should be voted out of office. "

When they confronted each other on SSM in Wellesley, Sholley had the disadvantage of speaking from emotion and counter to the evidence. For his part, Frank stated the obvious, "Same-sex marriage is of no concern to anyone who does not choose to enter into one."

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Trot Got Hot Spot

The Socialist Workers Party candidate for the Second Suffolk Senate seems to have captured the imagination of at least a few bloggers and papers. William Theodore Leonard is on the ballot for the seat, as is Democrat Sonia Chang-Díaz. Of course, the legally and politically clumsy incumbent Dianne Wilkerson is taking a flier on a sticker campaign.

Leonard seems to be popping up like Whac-A-Mole. A short time ago, no one I knew had heard of him. He had gotten enough signatures to be on the ballot. With no Republican running, suddenly he became the other candidate.

We may have started this with our October 14th podcast at Left Ahead! (We booked him a month earlier, but had a little backlog of guests.)

The Phoenix followed with a generalized profile.

The Bay State Banner interviewed him in a walk and talk while he campaigned.

Also, WFNX had made a passing mention of him (bottom of that blog post).

Neither Boston daily has interviewed or covered him. A couple of times, each listed his name as an also-runner in the last line of an article on the race.

In a way that makes sense, as he has little cash and few helpers. He made some bluster with us about being in it to win, but he wasn't very convincing. On the other hand, he has strong views on and reasons to support some seminal issues, notably reform of immigration policies and procedures. He is full of polemic, but elevates the political dialog on some topics.

With under two weeks to the vote, the dailies, PolitickerMA and maybe a broadcast outlet or two should do a bright on his candidacy. SWP folk are pretty rare on the ballot around here. I think a lot of voters are going to get their ballots on 11/4 and wonder 1) Who is William Leonard? and 2) Why hasn't anyone told me about another candidate on the ballot for state Senate?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kerry Wary of Marry Parry

Big sigh. The very bright and knowledgeable Sen. John Kerry leaves the blinders on when it comes to marriage equality.

I remain aghast at the Dems this election on this subject. No one in a position to get the Presidential nomination, including Obama, Clinton and Edwards, supported same-sex marriage. Those three are typical of lefties who claim to be LGBT fighters, but choke on the most obvious civil rights issue.

Many analysts say Obama had no choice; had he orally favored SSM, he'd be unelectable. Clinton and Edwards, on the other hand, are in the same camp as Kerry. All have 20th or 19th century attitudes on the subject. All hide behind a conflation of personal religion and constitutional and legal principles. All want to bless civil unions, the separate-and-still-unequal gimmick. That would be like telling a Rosa Parks she should stand at the front of the bus, so long as she didn't look at or touch the seated white people.

At Tufts, the first question following a solid foreign-policy/vote-for-Obama address last night, Kerry showed his befuddlement on this issue. He had already joked about being on the verge of the speed limit in age (65 in two months), but he sounded like 95 on this issue.

(That last remark may be ageist and unfair. A 92-year-old long-term friend is a strong supporter of marriage equality.)

Consider Kerry's remarks (italics are his emphasis):
I do support marriage equality and, in fact, in a major effort to engage in gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate when they passed the Defense of Marriage Act, I was the only Senator running for re-election among 13 or 14 no votes to vote against it. And I was against it because I believed and still believe that there ought to be equality of rights with respect to, you know, any status granted by the state as a formal right.

In that regard, I was not in favor of overturning the law that was passed in Massachusetts. Though my personal position has been as a matter of faith — partly faith and partly upbringing — is that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman, because of the whole concept of procreation et cetera, which is what you learn as a young person. But that should not restrain you and hasn't restrained me to acknowledge that rights given by the state must be recognized, which is why I'm not for overturning the statute here in the state.
The factual blunder that SSM exists here by statute and not court decision is odd enough. He also later said that SSM was settled in California and Connecticut, apparently unaware of the vote on Proposition 8 in the former next month.

These suggest he may not have given the other legal aspects enough thought. Perhaps Mass Equality or some of the SS couples who changed the minds of our local legislators need to explain what comes with full marriage equality and why it is necessary.

Moreover, the tired and highly questionable procreation stick is not one to wave anymore. At its silliest and most obvious, that suggests 1) that the infertile, those who chose not to have children or adoptive parents should not be allowed to marry, just to get civil unions, and even 2) that he and his wife, past fertile years, should not have been able to marry.

Worse though is this powerful person who is known for supporting other civil rights would have it so wrong here. His faith ruse does not shield him. He also referred to marriage as the oldest institution. Not only is it not, but most people didn't marry at all until a century or two ago. Many biblical paragons were polygamous and had concubines as well. Institution, my butt.

If his Roman Catholic clerics tell him how to think on this, he needs to act on principle, not emotion. He managed to do that for abortion rights in similar circumstances. He has no cover here.

Today, 64 may be the new 44. Kerry is not too old to find enlightenment here and some courage on this matter at the same time.

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Just a Point at Dianne

This is too much and too tiresome. Today's Phoenix has a long piece by free-lance Ted Siefer on yet more Sen. Dianne Wilkerson questionable dealings. It's that selling out to businessmen and not filing taxes and statements on yet another corporation.

Read it yourself. I feel dirty just mentioning it. Somebody stop her. Somebody talk to her.

Kerry: Look to Obama

In an elegant interweaving, Sen. John Kerry braided a foreign policy address with an Obama stump speech. Throughout the talk, he made a seamless flow from one to another.

Speaking to a packed auditorium at Tufts, he laid out the stark and heavy problems we confront. He did not spare us the glum diagnoses. In contrast, he gently walked by solutions, holding off the specifics and relying on the more general conclusion that Barack Obama as president would be best to cure the diseases.

Amusingly enough, during the question period, one recently self-outed Republican, Stephanie Brown called Kerry out on the address. "With all due respect, sir, I came for your thoughts on foreign policy reform, not to attend an Obama rally."

In good humor, Kerry denied that his addressed was actually an Obama rally. The sense that it was, or became so, increased with the repeated applause and cheers for mentions contrasting the current administration with what President Obama would likely do. Kerry was savvy enough to commend Brown's courage and rightly so. She was in the lion's den. (Hey, that include me among the pride.) When Kerry started with, "For the sake of the country and for the sake of the world, we have to send (Obama) to the White House," a great uproar immediately followed.

Shortly into the address I stopped being annoyed by the weaving. Problem...inadequate Bush response or policy...dreadful forecast...Obama approach to solve it... In my own doh moment, I realized that Kerry was in no position to mandate direction for the likely next President. He remained deferential and provided no kindling to those who would burn Obama shortly before the election.

This speech is one bookend of a set. Next week somewhere in Lowell yet to be announced, Kerry will do the same for the economic issues. Like two gargoyles on the wall, it's hard to tell whether security or finance is scarier.

The foreign policy beasts Kerry cited were many as well as frightening. We know them — two ground wars, rogue states like Iran and North Korea hellbent for being nuclear powers and more.

We have to invent our way out of this crisis.

As context and a touchstone, Kerry alluded to the Cuban missile crisis and President John Kennedy's diplomacy in preventing war. He likened the current U.S. situation to that, perhaps compounded, and said that what is called for again is a national leader with "judgment, vision and temperament." Unlike President Bush or would-be President McCain, the right leader would be "patient, pragmatic, steely and wise."

Kerry noted that specific issues today are different, though they "are as complex and pervasive as any I have seen in all the time I've been in public life." He cited the two "enormous, fundamental" issues of foreign policy and the economy.

For national security and international relations, he cited:
  • Our army is strained by two major ground wars
  • Traditional nation states like Iran and North Korea operate outside of the accepted rules of international behavior.
  • The very definition of national security is being rewritten, to include threats that know no borders.
  • Global terror, global AIDS, global warming, and lately, global finance.
  • We need to contend not just with rogue states, but with failed states too.
  • ...not just with the movement of troops but with the flow of dangerous technologies and materials, dislocated people and scarce energy supplies.
All these are complicated by large numbers of disenfranchised people susceptible to lowest-common-denominator appeals, including religious extremism. "This is our world today," he stated soberly.

The address itself did not lay out many specifics for addressing each point. It did touch on the need for diplomacy. Also in the question period, he described in some detail what he would expect of am Obama administration, as well as what he would fear of a McCain one, in these areas.

While deferring to Obama's policies to be, Kerry simultaneously placed an enormous burden of expectation on him. I expect to attend next week's economic address to complete this set. There are no state secrets to give away there, no need for a portfolio to negotiate, and Obama has been pretty clear on his economic policies as well as his intended response to the financial crises. I expect more specifics there.

Last night's address was too vague on solutions, although plenty graphic on the problems. In what he did offer on solutions, Kerry was plain in the language that lefties understand and speak.

In contrast to McCain's camp, he made it held that with only 3% of the world's petroleum reserves, drilling would not begin to solve our international relations or economic problems related to fossil fuels. He did in an answer to one question for massive expenditures here — in the nature of the $10 billion a month we have been spending in Iraq.

He painted an image of us in our last stand on energy independence, a situation only soluble through innovation. The goal can't be to keep finding more sources of polluting oil. "We cannot drill our way out of this crisis but have to invent our way out," he said, adding that the new energy solutions will provide millions of jobs and switch our balance of payments in the right direction.

Follow-up: The student paper, the Tufts Daily, has speech coverage here.
Follow-up two: The speech is online at Kerry's site.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wilkerson Clearing a Bit of Brush

It took a couple of weeks from the notice, but some MSM folk have discovered the Sen. Dianne Wilkerson gambit of using pre-primary endorsements on her campaign site. Even the Herald got around to mentioning it Monday.

Her folk have killed the old site and inexplicably put up a new one. It's typical DW — late and sloppily done. The old site is just out of DNS, doesn't load and doesn't route to the new one. First things first, please, people.

One of my major points two weeks ago was that DW was deceptively listing her long list of endorsements from pre-primary. Other than Boston's mayor, the other big shots have signed on for the Dem nominee, Sonia Chang-Diaz. In that camp are the governor, speaker of the house, and leading black state reps. Out of deference for their long association with her, the mayor and several city councilors are keeping their mouths shut, but they sure aren't endorsing Wilkerson or helping her quixotic sticker drive.

Today, PolitickerMA quotes a Wilkerson minion as saying the old site was for the primary. It is amusing, considering that the sensible thing to do without screwing over supporters would be to update the previous site. Also, the allegedly new one has pretty much the same template and content as the old, minus the misleading endorsement page.

Interestingly enough, after I cited the bait and switch, I got several comments here from her supporters. Then, her camp did update the endorsement page. That is, it updated the title about people and organizations who endorsed her to read that they endorsed her for the primary. Of course, this was in black type on a red background, so the endorsement list shouted while the title barely whispered.

I suspect in a few days, they'll bring back some kind of endorsement page. Right now the menu item is gone. I bet when they do, it will be quotes from supporters and not the scraggly list of few.

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Mass. Gambit Out West

With the budget as tight as it is here, Massachusetts should charge wingers a licensing fee. We are yet again being used as an advertising ploy, a weapon.

This time, it is the other Lexington couple devastated that they and their children would have to face simple, gentle reality here — that same-sex marriage is legal. Following the publicity hound Parkers, the much calmer but still reactionary Wirthlins (see clip below) are tools in the campaign to stop SSM in California.

Massachusetts remains the hammer in the anti-gay wingers' tool kit. First for SSM and then requiring diversity and fairness in education, we are the control freaks' horror. The yes-on-8 folk use the tag line with the Wirthlins of Protect your children. Protect marriage.

No one on the anti-SSM side can even begin to explain how expanding marriage (redefining it as they would have it) harms their marriages in the slightest. Court after court at local, state and federal levels agree that there's no damage to sue for there. Protect marriage is a throwaway, just a rallying cry.

The first slogan goes to the heart of the specious ad campaign. The protection they seek is really from the larger world, with the legality of SSM being just a tiny snippet of reality.

Let's get down to it here. These parental rights types want to abrogate their primary responsibility to their kids, to give them a framework for the world outside their homes.

Having attended trials on these suits and read briefs and other related documents, I kept running across the punchline. These couples and a small group of similar ones say that they have the right to be the primary moral instructors of their kids. Indeed they do and it is a duty as well as a right.

They then fail in two ways:
  1. By claiming that even mentioning the legality of SSM or the existence of homosexual-couple led families, the schools have usurped that parental right.
  2. By not taking reality in stride at the light level the schools mention it, they have tried to avoid teaching their kids, being the moral instructors.
In my life, I have been instructed by my family both by example and by word. I also got moral views from church, Boy Scouts, my team coaches and others. Not a single one of them said, "I'm the only source of information or opinion you need or should have."

Instead, the assumption was that I had the wit and heart to digest what I saw, what I experienced, what I read and what I heard. In contrast, the Lexington couples have an extremely unrealistic expectation that they can put their kids in idea bubbles.

Moreover, they choose to avoid their role as moral teachers. I have raised three kids, I can show them how to deal with children's question and confusion. I considered that my duty.

If their kids come home with questions about a picture book that has a king marrying another king, fury and a sense of violation are not the rational response. Instead, for anti-SSM, anti-gay parents, the simple and effective answer for a second grader is something like, "In this state, two men can legally marry. We don't agree with that and believe that it goes against the Bible's teachings."

How hard is that? Isn't that part of being the primary moral instructor? Won't that help a child frame outside facts and information?

Yet, in California, the fearsome hammer of Massachusetts SSM and the dreaded possibility of having to speak with your kids become the tool of choice today. Of course, this is disingenuous. Of course, it's dishonest. It remains to be seen whether it will scare or convince anyone not already in the yes-on-8 camp.

By the bye, the good guys, the ones who want to expand marriage, are trying to put the truth to such lies. They could use our financial help right now.

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Mel King on the "Black Seat"

An excellently presented op-ed in today's Globe kicks the melodrama off the Wilkerson stage. Ten-year state Rep. Mel King and Legislative Black Caucus member Kay Gibbs say let's get on with the Second Suffolk Senate race. The Sonia Chang-Díaz primary victory is true to the district's history and intent.

As they write, "The rationale for changing the district was one of fairness - that the communities of color should have the opportunity to elect one of their own to the all-white Senate...In our district, the voters have spoken. They chose from the two progressive women of color - who agree on most of the issues - the one they view as best representing the needs and interests of the district."

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nature of the Pol

Up front, I'm an obsessive sort and can be quite a bluenose. Regular readers know I'm aghast at state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson's unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for her actions, including civil and criminal transgressions.

Moreover, her chimerical and doomed sticker campaign paints her heavily with the fantasy roller. For someone who allegedly is so bright, how could she act so stupidly, so often, so long?

Through over a decade of self-destructive actions, she has managed to rob the district set up as the safe black senate seat in a state that elects far to few black legislators, or lawmakers of color at all. As a result, I obsess on the why. As someone who agrees with many of her political positions, I also have strongly urged her here and elsewhere to accept responsibility for her actions and clean up her act for real, including driving away those around her who seem to tell her to deny and stonewall.

For my own reality check, I got a dope slap from a long term friend, which got reinforcement from a news analysis today. Let's put the second first.

In today's Financial Times, Michael Skapinker nailed me and more than a few others with his questions. His analysis went beyond the subject, who is responsible for the rampant financial horrors we face.

Addressing a letter to the FT calling for bankers to apologize, he wrote:
It is certainly true that others were responsible for the fiasco too - such as house-buyers who took on debts they could not service. Some, it is true, were hoodwinked. Many others trusted that rising house prices would rescue them from their imprudent borrowing.

Then there are those of us - governments, regulators, ratings agencies and journalists - who never blew the whistle.

It is worth asking why bankers find it hard to apologise. It is also worth wondering why the rest of us need their apologies so badly.

She'll land on her feet somewhere.

Isn't it so, or as my youngest loves to say, "Oh, snap!" While I think that Wilkerson could have pulled out the primary last month if she had publicly apologized...even once, I feel she too owes us that.

I kicked around her odd lack of moral fiber and candor with a long-term friend. We've known each other for decades, but perhaps more important, he is a psychologist. For what it's worth, he's also black and another way-back friend of his (a black woman lawyer) has known Wilkerson for many years.

Well my friend was not at all surprised. He figures this is my problem only. As he put it, "And so forth. She is a politician! She's not crazy. Not stupid. With the huge ego that goes with all that.I doubt that she was seduced by Beelzebub. So vote her out and be done with it. She'll land on her feet somewhere. This is Boston!"

That's surely the better attitude. She's screwed herself out of this guaranteed spot, robbing her constituents of their admired champion. That's the way it is, sports fans.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Di's Hole Truth

Don't we all know the standard oath — ...the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth... ? Sen. Dianne Wilkerson seems to have missed that lesson too. Then again her campaign site does not require an oath.

I had checked her campaign website a few times since she lost the primary, and lost the recount, and lost nearly all her endorsements. Pragmatism alone dictates that she'd tout her quixotic sticker/write-in approach. That's her GAS, grasping at straws, tactic.

Well, the site was stagnant until this weekend. Not surprisingly, it does not update everything. Least surprising, it does not link to Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham's detailed piece on my-district-is-not-for-sale Wilkerson's sellout to corporate interests.

The site has tried to start to change. The old DIANNE DELIVERS message everywhere is only in the site name. The slogan is now the same as it was two years ago when she goofed off and goofed up, leading to an all-sticker primary. The catchphrase is STICK WITH DIANNE.

Everything is dead.

Maybe someone in her campaign can hire a 12-year-old geek to apply some hotlinks. In the top center of the page, the WHERE'S MY POLLING PLACE and REGISTER TO VOTE red heads are dead. On the left column, the red Polling Changes head and Click here for more info are dead. The Donate box and head...well, you know. Likewise, the Sticker/Write-in Further Information box and the Boston Election Department one go nowhere.

This is an apt metaphor for her job and her campaign. Wait until it's too late and then do a half-assed job in a hurry. Don't plan, overlook the details, make mistakes, and above all else, wait.

On the other hand, she seems to have made a whole-truth decision in one section. She came down on the wrong side of that.

In the endorsements area, she seems unaware that she has almost none left. To her, any endorsement before the primary is permanent. The page has been updated in look and quotes from individuals, but the long list remains, including many who jumped ship to primary winner and Dem. nominee Sonia Chang-Díaz. She also included those, like Tom Menino, who don't want to rile disappointed black voters but still are sitting out the general, in effect more gently rejecting Wilkerson.

PolitickerMA has been keeping a running total. It does not include the large number or organizations and media who have come out for Chang-Díaz. It only has primary endorsers. That's embarrassing enough and seemingly sufficient reason to inspire Wilkerson's on-site lie Senator Wilkerson is endorsed by the following. Of course, the minimal truth would be Senator Wilkerson was endorsed for the primary election by the following. The whole truth would be the just the list of three Boston City Councillors and one state rep. Literally all the long list of big shots at the state level endorse the nominee.

Her highly efficient and extremely honorable campaign staff under her noble leadership have three weeks to add some truth. I bet they'll eventually manage to activate a link from the Donate button. Here's betting the whole truth of endorsers remains a programming error.
Monday night update: I guess someone isn't watching the Sox game. The left column has some links. The center one's are still dead. The endorsement page hasn't removed the lost kisses, but did put the long list, deceptively, in the past very small type. It's far from a whole truth still, but making feeble efforts. The site reflects Wilkerson.

Fourth day follow-up: She apparently is going to stick with the simple dishonesty of no-longer endorsers. They finally added some links to the page. The endorser list is still from the primary and identified as such. There's no good-faith effort to reduce the list to two city councilors and one state rep. Moving to Dem. nominee Sonia Chang-Díaz endorsers are the governor, senate president, speaker of the house, Mass Alliance, National Association of Social Workers, and the most influential state rep., Byron Rushing.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Prop 8...Cogitate...Donate

It's big, bigger than big, and it's almost here. The California vote will determine the mid-term future of marriage equality. Proposition 8 would reverse this summer's legalization of same-sex marriage there. That can't happen.

A lot of us away from that region aren't aware of the forces lined up and money pouring in to pass 8. The good guys need to match their ads in the next three weeks. The usual suspects, including the Family Research Council, have recruited the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) for bell ringing, phone banking and bucks.

Those who want to keep marriage equality are down $15 million to the other side's $25 million. It seems every anti-gay and anti-equality group and individual is trying to pass this dreadful initiative that would stop SSM.

The call now is for you to do as I did, find the money to help defeat Prop. 8.

This is tough timing. The financial markets are tumbling, jobs and futures are uncertain, and those with any retirement funds don't even want to open the report mailings.

So, it's simple. Weigh what you do and have. Pick a thing or two to forgo. Then donate. Do this today.

It might be nice to have some fancy gadget. You want to reward yourself and maybe someone you snuggle with. The price of an evening out by itself can make a huge difference.

You have to ask how much is it worth to have the most populous state in the nation secure in marriage equality? This sets the tone for the nation and that's why the Dark Side is throwing money and people at California. They will do their damnedest (and damned they are) to slow the inexorable victory of marriage equality.

Make no mistake. California is the big one. It's the SSM Ragnarok.

Just identify what you can do. Then donate.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Clear Definitions from Connecticut SSM

Three state high-court rulings mandating marriage equality fascinate by their interrelationships. While today's in Connecticut is not likely to transform an anti-same-sex marriage legislature or public (think Virginia or Texas), in a real sense it eventually will.

Of course, as with other state-level court decisions, Connecticut's does not set precedence for other states per se. Yet the explication of principles — particularly weighing equal rights mandates — is likely to inform the thinking elsewhere.

Several intriguing aspects of today's ruling in Hartford include:
  • Laying new pontoons over the murky swamps, such as criteria for a quasi-suspect legal class
  • Charging headlong into areas avoided by both Massachusetts and California high courts, such as definitions of political powerlessness
  • Dismissing the faux mutability of homosexuality claims
  • Most important, specifying the failures of civil unions to create equality under law or in reality
Resources: If you want to get smart fast, read the 85-page (only half type) decision and NYU Law Professor Arthur S. Leonard's same-day analysis.
I am sure we'll see suits in other cases and arguments in other states' legislatures draw on this decision. Of the three states with SSM, this one's high-court ruling was clearest and most courageous. Moreover, in defending its position to continue banning same-sex marriages, the state's case was brutal in arguments and tactics. This was no stroll for plaintiff lawyers, including some Goodridge heroines. They were Bennett C. Klein, Kenneth J. Bartschi, Mary L. Bonauto, Karen L. Loewy, Jennifer L. Levi, Karen L. Dowd, Maureen Murphy, and Renee Redman.

In some ways, the Connecticut court had extra burdens but walked on a relatively defined path. Like California with its domestic partnership and unlike Massachusetts starting from nowhere, Connecticut's legislatively established civil unions forced the justices into clear positions. That even made them define legal areas that the other two states had mumbled about only.

The progression we see relates in the first to the reality that dedication to equality has costs. That has happened many times with great issues, such as slavery and women's suffrage. In the instance of gay rights and now marriage equality, the ground is tillable in large part because the consensus of America has already arrived.

Time for the check

If you phrase a question along the lines of do you accept same-sex marriage not at all/somewhat/slightly/strongly, you'd likely get a majority of negative responses. However if you ask whether all people are created equal and deserve the same rights, there'd be all-American cheers.

Today, a third high court put the bill on the table for that widely accepted value. Even if individual citizens and legislators are not emotionally ready for SSM, the law is and it's too late to be unAmerican.

The fundamental decision in all three states was much the same. On this side we have a constitution and set of laws and regulations requiring equal rights and non-discrimination. On that side is the cultural turtle popping his head out and screeching, "Oh, no. Not homosexuals too!"

All three high courts in moderately different ways arrived at the same conclusions. Marriage is a basic human need (fundamental right in legalese), anything short is at best separate but not really equal, and there's no compelling reason to forbid SSM.

While the Goodridge decision here was certainly pioneering, it seems tepid viewing the Connecticut one. The justices in Hartford have made good use of developments since 2004. They waded right in, clarifying the vague in their own state, weighing the meaning and worth of their civil unions, and drawing on U.S. Supreme Court opinions in right cases to set the expanded rules there. That's the other kind of pioneering.
Page Notes: In the following pointers, the pages in parentheses refer to the PDF file released today. This version may disappear after 10/28/8 when it is officially released.
The overview of the ruling is that the eight SS couples to whom the state refused marriage licenses were denied substantive due process and equal protection under the state constitution. The court concluded (p. 4) " light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm." Specifically:
  • Connecticut discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation
  • Homosexuals are a quasi-suspect class deserving heightened protection
  • Connecticut can't show any reasons why SS couples should not marry

Turning the tables

This turns the old arguments on their head. If the legal assumption was that civil unions were as good as marriage, or if homosexuality were proven to be a mutable lifestyle instead of natural characteristic, or there was verifiable harm in letting SS couples wed, they would have to try a whole different approach. Instead, this decision clearly puts the anti-gay folk on the defensive. Show us the harm. Prove that separate but fairly similar is really equal. The state advocates failed the tests.

What may be most instructive elsewhere is that Assistant Attorney General Jane R. Rosenberg and her helpers were not coasting. They pulled some fairly nasty arguments. Of course, they said that there were gay-rights legal protections as well as a civil-union structure designed to provide the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as marriage. They also pulled out the enumerated protected classes in the constitution (Article First Sec. 20, and Amendments Articles V and XX). The state specifies protections against various discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex or physical or mental disability, but nothing about sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs' lawyers successfully convinced a majority of the justices that the separate structures, such as civil unions are not equal. Likewise, homosexuals are and have long been discriminated against, and deserve consideration and protection. Also, the heterosexual couples lose nothing by the pro-marriage position of expanding it, while SS couples and their children are considerably disadvantaged for no good reason.

Of course, the court dismissed some of the more fatuous claims of the anti-SSM crowd, such as the state's assertion that there's no discrimination because homosexuals can marry. They just have to marry someone of a different sex. That's a cognate to the claim that the trial court rejected that ‘"creation of the civil union for same sex couples, while retaining the status of marriage for opposite sex couples, has the effect of creating for them a legal institution of lesser status." That court disingenuously held that any feelings they were in an inferior relationship as a result were in the plaintiffs' minds. (p. 7)

Instead the high court agreed with the plaintiffs that They contend "...that marriage is not simply a term denominating a bundle of legal rights. Rather, they contend that it is an institution of unique and enduring importance in our society, one that carries with it a special status." This court added, "We agree with the plaintiffs that, despite the legislature’s recent establishment of civil unions, the restriction of marriage to opposite sex couples implicates the constitutional rights of gay persons who wish to marry a person of the same sex." (p. 8) The majority concluded that this relegated homosexual couples to an inferior status, unworthy of marriage. (p. 9)

Time for the check

We are likely to see this in other states. Many have equal-rights legislation, some with specific gay-rights laws. They too will have to align what they say with what they do. Also, those with civil unions or domestic partnerships may be in for some shocks. The issue they will face will be similar to Connecticut's with its more advanced civil union ploy. As the ruling put it, "...the legislature nonetheless created an entirely separate and distinct legal entity for same sex couples even though it readily could have made those same rights available to same sex couples by permitting them to marry." To grind in this point, the justices cited Brown v. Board of Education with:
We do not doubt that the civil union law was designed to benefit same sex couples by providing them with legal rights that they previously did not have. If, however,
the intended effect of a law is to treat politically unpopular or historically disfavored minorities differently from persons in the majority or favored class, that law cannot evade constitutional review under the separate but equal doctrine.
That's where tempers are likely to flare in such cases elsewhere. Legislators may well say as they did in the 1950s and 1960s, "Look at all we've done for them. Aren't they ever satisfied?"

Who deserves protection?

When it came to suspect classes, this court was pretty brave too, as well as innovative. The majority noted that Connecticut courts had never fully defined what would constitute a suspect class deserving heightened protection under law. Many courts would have sidestepped the issue, but they hopped right in, drawing on a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. (p. 17)

Under more testing from the defendants (the state), the justices rolled around in this issue. They all concurred that homosexuals has a long history of overt and covert discrimination. That wasn't enough. Other key components would be whether someone's sexual orient ion limited the ability to contribute to society, whether homosexuality was changeable or innate, as well as whether they were politically powerless (thus needing some help).

They quickly disposed of the issue of contributions to society — not applicable (p.23). Also, these justices were not buying into the anti-gay arguments that homosexuals has to prove the negative, that just maybe some homosexuals can and do shift orientation. Instead, the majority concluded, "Although we do not doubt that sexual orientation—heterosexual or homosexual— is highly resistant to change, it is not necessary for us to decide whether sexual orientation is immutable in the same way and to the same extent that race, national origin and gender are immutable, because, even if it is not, the plaintiffs nonetheless have established that they fully satisfy this consideration." (p. 26) Instead, they found the obvious, that sexual orientation was the group's defining characteristic to consider heightened protection (p. 27)

Perhaps the most legally and intellectually intriguing (as well as the longest) section of the ruling was whether homosexuals lacked political power (from p. 28 to p. 47). The majority tears apart the arguments of those who say homosexuals have gotten elected to public office, they advance cases such as this, and otherwise have lots of clout. Instead the justices draw more apt parallels with women and racial minorities who likewise made advances but still quality for federal and state protections because discrimination against them remains very real.

This section likely got such in-depth treatment because it is pivotal to such arguments. Legislators and judges in other states may well perk up reading this, recognize weaknesses in their locales' positions and see the future. There's really not much they can do short of providing marriage equality to bring equal-rights mandates into line with one-man/one-woman marriage limits.

By this point, the defense's arsenal was reduced to the harm bullet. What compelling reason could Connecticut offer to say SSM was bad for different-sex marriage? Basically, there isn't one, but there is a counterpoint. (pp. 57-58)

The justices could find no alteration of the substantive nature of marriage by SSM. "In other words, limiting marriage to opposite sex couples is not necessary to preserve the rights that those couples now enjoy." However, they found the lack of community acceptance and similar factory for SS couples denied marriage "is likely to have an especially deleterious effect on the children of the same sex couples" as well as on the couples themselves.

They went a step farther, nothing the arguments that religious autonomy would be threatened (p. 59). Churches and similar religious institutions will not have perform SSMs. Also, because "...marriage is a state sanctioned and state regulated institution, religious objections to same sex marriage cannot play a role in our determination of whether constitutional principles of equal protection mandate same sex marriage." (p 60)

Such silly panicked claims did not work in Canada or Spain or Massachusetts. They were cut off in Connecticut as well.

The Connecticut justices freely cited and applied famous cases, such as Loving v. Virginia, reveling in the new relevance. Likewise, in their conclusion, they cited Lawrence v. Texas in reference to the framers of the U.S. Constitution with the statement that they "knew [that] times can blind us to certain truths, and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the [c]onstitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.’’ (p. 65)

This was a great legalistic day and a great day for American freedoms. It wasn't so much as the third state legalized marriage equality. This court spoke loudly and clearly. Most Americans deep down believe in freedom that does not harm others. This decision should be a welcome and affirming one. Some people will need more processing than others on its implications.

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